Lately I have discovered that I read differently, like different things about books. Looking back I see that there has been that same tendency from my childhood, but recently I have reached a definite turning point and find it hard to read some books I would have liked – or at least finished – before. I have even left some books unfinished – unheard-of behavior for me.
As I have written here before, I was a book-eater in childhood. Everything I could get my hands on, I read. I escaped chores and playmates to read. Hid myself behind the sofa or inside the hedge to have my privacy. And if I liked a book, I could read it over and over again, tens of times. I learned to forget enough of the storyline to have it interesting on each read. But what was the thing that brought me back to my particular favorites? The point behind the story. Oh, I did enjoy the storyline, shed tears with the heroes and heroines, but I never came back to books without a comprehensive point I could understand behind the story. So, I read the whole of Gone with the Wind series, but only once – though I was enraptured by the tale when I read it; I came back to several criminal stories – but only because the plots had some point besides (like having implications on what the adult world is really like – and I was just a child), but that wasn’t very often. My favorites, as I remember them, were mostly from Science Fiction world or real classics – though I have always had a hard time drawing a line between them.
When I grew up I was re-acquainted with the world of fantasy and science fiction on a different, more systematic level; and in school I had more classics to go thorough as well (though when I compare the books I had to read in school with other people I am always surprised in how many more they had to read, that I have not and feel sorry that I have not). For a while my horizons were much wider and I could enjoy books just for the storyline, just to experience the feelings again – the pain, the fun, the romance. But slowly I have grown out of liking to read a story for its own sake. Long series with long chapters in big books tire me, even if they’re funny. I just can’t wait to hear the next part of the puzzle – but they just hang around and fall in love or have fun or something. And I have other things to do besides reading, why couldn’t they just state their point?
In the last year I have read some books with great puzzles (to be discovered one piece at a time) or philosophies behind them (different series like Robin Hobb‘s Farseer through Liveship to Tawny man; Dan Simmons‘s Hyperion and Endymion; Orson Scott Card‘s Ender series from Speaker for the Dead through Xenocide to Children of the Mind – Ender’s Game was read previously) and had really hard time with them. I was angry at them for disrupting my life as they did, I was angry for their bloatedness, the nitty-gritty irrelevant details and typical relationships in them. I respect those writers for their accomplishments, but I have found that I value my other life much more, the life I cannot have if I am submersed in a book. So, I got really afraid of all series or thick books and turned to short stories.
I had read some before, but this was the first time I really acknowledged how good they were for me and my life. If you read a short story, you get the concentrate of a book and you get it in a split time of reading a big book. You could read many short stories in one evening and still have enough time to sleep before the next working day. Or you can read one and really think of all its implications while going to sleep. Extracting the meaning is so much easier. You don’t have to read the insignificant parts about imaginary landscapes and small talk of nonexistent characters. These are brief enough in the short stories. Sure, there are boring short stories as well, or ones just wrong, but you get through them quickly and it doesn’t bother you to have spent this part of your precious time on reading it. It’s only sad that I can’t list them here as well, there’s just too many of them, but the collections I myself bought were Complete Robot by Asimov and Science Fiction The Best Of The Year 2006.
But once I realized that short stories are better for me, I could see that smaller books could be as well. I mentioned reading Sheckley in the post about my surgery – and he has grasped the right size for the books quite well. I also found Daniel Quinn for myself – something worth thinking about at least – I read two books in two nights and was not worse off at all (if I finish at 1:30, then I have 4,5 hours of sleep by morning and as it is 3*1,5h, which is the unit by which one should sleep, then I am quite well rested by morning). These serve well on making me think, yet don’t rob me of my precious time, which is divided between different important things already.
And only a few days ago I discovered that there are actually three unfinished thick books on my bookshelf. Each of these started but not read through, not taken in and analyzed as usual. OK, the Sheckley is in this list only because the book (which is collected works of Sheckley, a book I specially ordered from Amazon to let him know he has yet another fan) is too big to put into my smallish bag when I go somewhere. But Peter F. Hamilton (which I bought because of a recommendation in one of the short stories books) is bloated and too predictable to be interesting and Dan Simmons’s Ilium (which I bought because I did like the plot behind Hyperion series and hoped for something as good) suffers from the same disease that made reading Hyperion and its follow-ups so frustrating – though the emerging plot does seem to be interesting. When I read it, its interesting, but I can hear myself constantly thinking: “I don’t have time for this”.
And time, time is the point. It seems like I have finally grown up, I have finally taken the reins and started thinking about how I spend my time versus how I would like to spend it and what could I do to change it (there are always more things than you could think of!). And are those things that I list as me liking to do really things I want to do; or are those things I don’t like to do really not worth doing. It is complex and I should spend another post on how to spend and divide and plan your time, but I am most sure that reading just for fun is not on the list of things that I really really want to spend my time on. There has to be more to reading than fun. Escaping the world is not it. There can be results, changes, improvements coming from it. I can grow as a person because of it.
So here I promise – a promise my son would very much like for all the time it frees for him – I will not take on a thick book anymore (with the exception of a long holiday). I will prefer books and stories that are short and to the point. And when I encounter a book I don’t think will give me anything, I stop reading it. And when I finally get to writing that book I always wanted to write (or one of them rather), then I won’t bloat it and I won’t feel bad if it is thinner than could be or would feel proper.