Note: I write these articles fairly far in advance of publication and, at the time I originally prepared this article, I wasn’t reading much. However, I’ve got back into reading regularly since then 🙂 So, expect regular book reviews to appear here every 2-6 days from late November onwards 🙂
Still, for the sake of posterity, I’ll post the article here (even though it makes me cringe a bit when I look at it now. Seriously, why was I so cynical about books? They’re awesome 🙂).
A while before I wrote this article, I ended up reading a few online news article about books and literature. This, of course, reminded me of the days when I used to read a lot more novels than I do now.
But, surprisingly, rather than being filled with regret or guilt about the fact that the number of novels I read per year these days is in the low single figures (at most) rather than double figures, I just found myself feeling glad that I used to read more during the previous decade than I do during this decade.
So, as an antidote to all of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that are circulating on the internet, I thought that I’d list a few of the benefits of reading more in the past than you do now.
1) Books were cooler when you were younger (because you were younger): One of the many reasons that I used to read so much when I was a young teenager was because of film censorship. Basically, since I didn’t look old enough to buy most of the cool horror films I wanted to see on video or DVD, I quickly realised that books had no such issues.
Best of all, the old second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels that I used to find in charity shops and second-hand shops were cheaper and considerably more gruesome than the average horror movie. Although I still felt a burning sense of injustice about the fact that some stuffy old censors didn’t think I was old enough to see “Zombie Flesh Eaters” or whatever, it didn’t matter quite as much because I had a decent collection of Shaun Hutson and James Herbert novels. I felt like some kind of badass rebel who had found a way to get around the censors.
As I grew slightly older, I had more of these kinds of “cool rebel” moments with other types of books. Whether it was reading Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” when I was fourteen, or reading J.G.Ballard’s “Crash” when I was fifteen, reading beat literature when I was seventeen etc.. books were a cool and rebellious thing when I was a teenager. Or, rather, they were cool and rebellious because I was a teenager and reading books was one of the easiest ways to rebel.
The last truly “cool” moment that I really had with books was when I turned twenty and finally got round to reading several gothic novels and short story collections by Billy Martin (writing under the name of “Poppy Z. Brite”). I’d seen these books on the horror shelves of bookshops for longer than I could remember, but the time finally felt right for me to read them. They seemed like exactly the right books at exactly the right time. The mixture of hedonism, nihilism, lush prose and the feeling of finding refuge from the world in alternative subcultures was absolutely perfect for my twenty-year old self. They felt like they had been written just for me.
So, why have I mentioned all of this stuff? Simply put, reading a lot can really enrich the earlier parts of your life. But, a lot of this is also because you were younger then. So, a lot of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that people have are often “I wish I was younger” regrets in disguise. So, be thankful of the contributions that books made to your life then, but remember that this was also because of the context that you read them in.
2) It actually makes you less pretentious: If you haven’t been reading for quite a while, it can be easy to look back at the times when you did read with rose-tinted spectacles.
But, when you end up picking up a book again, you might be surprised to feel something along the lines of “Oh, this again? Meh. It’s pretty ordinary, in a good way“.
Although reading is often presented as some kind of highly-intellectual way to spend time, if you read a lot in the past then you’ll know that it’s just an “ordinary” thing. The stories you read can be relaxing, thrilling, amusing, terrifying, fascinating, profound etc.. but the actual experience of reading itself is just ordinary (in the best sense of the word). It’s just a mundane and warmly familiar everyday activity.
So, reading a lot in the past means that you are familiar with books. It means that you don’t consider reading books for the sake of reading books to be some kind of virtuous act.
It also means that a book actually has to interest you in order to make you want to read it. After all, if you want to impress people by talking about books, you can just talk about the books you read when you used to read more. As such, the motivations for reading things now tend to be a lot less pretentious (eg: because you like the author or because the blurb intrigued you enough to make you want to break your book-fast etc..).
3) You’re probably still a “book person”: A lot of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that you might feel are probably at least slightly identity-based. Chances are, when you read more, reading was a part of your identity. You probably considered yourself to be a “book person”. Well, you probably still are a book person.
For example, even though I can probably count the number of novels I read every year these days on the digits of one hand, my bedroom is filled with piles of books. In fact, having lots of books lying around is a prerequisite for somewhere feeling “cosy” or “home”. This is the sort of attitude that only comes from being a “book person”, even if I don’t read that much any more.
Or, to put it another way, if you’re worrying about whether or not you are still a “book person”, then this probably means that you are a “book person”. After all, if you weren’t a “book person” any more, why would the question even bother you?
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂