Saturday, 3 October 2015

Scatterbrained reading habits, unfinished writing projects and ignorance.

Scatterbrained reading is my worst habit. If you look at my reading list on Goodreads you'll see what I mean. I've recently updated it, but I bet I still haven't included all the books I've got on the go. My target of 26 to be read by the end of the year, is a realistic number of those I'll complete, although I'll start three times that number. Some I've had going for years and others for days, some I finish in an afternoon. I have been wondering if this a reflection of my disorganisation in general or a reflection of the writing I choose to read or perhaps I have undiagnosed AADD? (This is not meant to be a flippant or disparaging comment, I seriously wonder if I do.) My writing flows a similar route; I currently have in the region of 30 projects on the go and flit from one to the other adding, tweaking and amending. There is order and purpose but my muse is mercurial and likes to wind me up.

Then, on a FB forum I frequent, the question posed was 'Is there a book that you've started and never finished?' It begged a kind of judgemental answer that I happily capitulated to giving. I've since seen two other bloggers following suit this week. So, I'll throw in my tuppence worth to this as well but that is not all!*

Some contributors on the aforementioned forum, claimed they would never again pick up a book once they had given up, I am not that type. I may put a book down again and again, but I will finish it eventually, even years after I have started it. Is this determination or pigheadedness, you decide. In each point of view, there is something to be gained.

On the forum, I mentioned The Mists of Avalon as being one such book that I came back to again and again until I finally did finish it but there were many titles I could have used as an answer. The ones I struggle with are some famous and others obscure. Is it because the prose is bad? Or perhaps outmoded or, as one blogger friend suggests, the author was writing when there was nothing of its kind against which it could be compared and, though he didn't say it, got published on a novelty vote? But that begs the questions what makes a trashy best seller bad prose but a good read? Or why are some classics the toughest books to get through?

My reading habits are lessons for my writing; when I do put a book down and change to another one, I have to ask myself what made me do so? Equally, a I ask what made me want to read more of the ones I finish in a day? More often than not I find grammar errors annoying but not off-putting. (Something much more frequent with the increased popularity of self-publishing). Rich vocabulary is invigorating but one can go over the top. Repetition has to be the real killer for me. If characters are forced into recurrent situations and little or no progress is made then I plod through the book. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is one such case. I consumed the first trilogy with glee but by the second book of the second trilogy I was struggling and now I see there are another four books of which I knew nothing! The second trilogy still sits on my shelf some twenty years later. I will read to the end eventually just in case there's a surprise in store and to see if poor Thomas is finally cured of his leprosy. (No spoilers please, I will read even the newer books eventually just find out!)

So why is it that these stories do not grip me in the same way let's say Harry Potter does? I am reading the full set back-to-back with my kids at present and it feels like talking to an old friend. Voldemort can fail to kill HP over and over but it doesn't bother me, why? Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles are the same for me. I love Lestat's lamenting! These books may not be eveyone's cup of tea, but they are examples of what doesn't bore me.

With that said, my theory is that it is actually just that - the cup of tea thing. It is the reader's state of mind which plays a huge role in enjoyment of a book. Books I read in my teens, not all teen fiction I must assure you - one of my favourite books was a collection of essays by George Orwell, do not appeal to me now. The ones that I shunned at Uni are now my favourites. We change as people and evolve and so, of course, do our reading habits and tastes.
So it would seem that it is important not to be elitist or judgemental of the writer quite so much as the reader. Anyone who can write, should write, but that doesn't mean she or he will become successful nor does it mean that those who do, always deserve to. As a writer, try another genre, play around with style, who knows what you will achieve? Anyone who can read, should read and any kind of reading gives a little something.

One of the trends on the Net are lists. We have become crazed neo-Victorians, trying to categorise the infinite realms of information available to us, shamelessly pushing all our prejudices and idiosyncrasies to the fore in the name of order. You have surely seen those must-read lists popping up on social media; 'How many of BLAH genre have you read?' Implying that quantity is quality and that whatever is omitted from said list just doesn't make the grade. We gladly tick off the titles and feel satisfaction, for it is an opportunity to gloat and count ourselves 'in' or collate a list of the books we just have to read. For the record, I do check my score but I am usually disappointed and left feeling somewhat lacking.

As a reader, I turn back to the cityscape of books around my house and the burgeoning Kindle app on my phone and wonder if I will ever be knowledgeable enough, well-read enough and able to walk the thoroughfares oft frequented by the cyber intelligentsia with my head held high? As a writer, I wonder if my work will ever be subject for discussion or if I will find one of my humble stories on a must read list? But I fear not, being a philosophically positive type, I like to think of something not done or achieved as a future goal to be obtained, and I keep in mind my favourite quotation.
 
"Εν οίδα ότι ουδέν οίδα."
(I know one thing: that I know nothing.)
Socrates

* N.B. Due to a fickle muse, I have been writing this post on and off for the best part of six months so please don't feel I am flogging a dead horse. I hope you will see that my theme has another direction eventually!
 

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