Wednesday 21 November 2012

Bookish Epiphany Part 3: Getting back on track

This has been a bit of a marathon, but fret not - this is the last post of the bunch!  So, in Part 1 I talked about how dissatisfied I've become with my reading and with the way I seem to keep falling down the twin rabbit holes of trashy telly and the internet instead of doing things I enjoy of an evening, like reading good books and watching documentaries.  In Part 2 I sketched out how my reading has changed from 2006-12, and clearly demonstrated the discrepancy between what I love to read most (as evidenced by my favourite books of each year) and what I'm actually reading (the figures never lie).

That really only leaves one question - where do I go from here?  What have I learned this week, and how do I implement these lessons in such a way that I can start to regain my genuine love for my books and get some much-needed balance back in my free time?

  1. Mixed reading is good reading - I enjoy a really mixed diet of books.  That means classics, history, literary fiction, chick lit, humour and journalism, natural history, science, YA, social sciences and biography.
  2. Not every blogger recommendation is a GOOD recommendation - Just because twenty bloggers have recommended it, doesn't mean it's worth buying.  WHO those bloggers are, and whether I share their tastes and sensibilities, is more important.
  3. I really like non-fiction - Nothing makes me feel quite as satisfied as getting to the end of a book that's taught me something, and where I've had to think and persevere and understand instead of just being able to skim along on the surface.  Books about books are also a good bet, for obvious reasons!
  4. I also really like classics - Not every classic hits the spot for me, but the ones that do make up a large proportion of the books I keep and love and re-read.  There's a reason they've stuck around so long!
  5. Quality over quantity - Reading less books but choosing wisely and really enjoying them is FAR preferable to ploughing through twice as many but not clicking with most of them.
  6. Self-inflicted pressure never helps - Feeling like I should be posting reviews twice a week doesn't help.  Joining challenges that I have no chance of finishing doesn't help.  Overthinking and overprescribing and fretting does not a happy reader make.
  7. The internet is a deceptive fiend - I am REALLY good at 'popping online for five minutes' only to come back to consciousness three hours later and realise I've lost another evening.  Then I feel like a muppet and go to bed in a huff.
  8. The BBC is my friend - I love documentaries on BBC2 and BBC Four.  I also love great dramas like The Hour and Homeland (ssh, I know, Channel 4).  I get more out of watching something fascinating at 9pm instead of spending another hour on Pinterest.
  9. I enjoy taking a chance - Picking up books on a whim from the library often yields some of my favourite books of each year.  Taking a chance on something I know very little about, or that is completely outside my comfort zone, is one of the most satisfying parts of my reading life.
  10. Reviewing for others isn't doing me any favours - I'm happiest when I'm free to read whatever I like, whether that's a pile of chick lit over a busy summer or a wave of books on Ancient Egypt because I'm on a history kick.  Throwing compulsory reading into the mix - especially compulsory reading that isn't something I enjoy that much - seems rather counter-intuitive.

  1. Take the blog down a notch - That means less filler, more substance.  Instead of feeling like I NEED to post three or four times a week, I'm going to scale things down and start enjoying what I write again!  I'll review to the timetable of my reading instead of reading to fit a review timetable, if you see what I mean...  Hopefully it'll just loosen everything up and take the pressure off. 
  2. Get off the reviewer radar - Reviewing for RHCP was a great privilege at the beginning, partially because much of what I read I'd chosen from their blogger bulletins, or I was emailed first to see if I was interested.  These days it seems many books are just sent out regardless so I've ended up with a big pile of titles that I'm not really interested in but still feel obligated to read.  I've asked to be removed from their mailing list and I'll just read and review the couple that HAVE piqued my interest in the near future.
  3. Quit planning - We all know that the moment you make a list of books you want to read next, you end up desperate to read something else entirely.  So I'm going to stop for a while and see what happens.  When I finish a book, I'll go up to the flat and choose something else.  Something that I want to read RIGHT NOW - not next week, not next month, NOW.
  4. Challenge-Free for 20-1-3 - I'm always tempted by challenges.  Always.  But I don't think I've finished a single one yet, and they just end up hanging over me in December chortling to themselves.  Yes, they've pushed me towards some great books in the past - but the whole point of this exercise is to start doing that for myself again, so maybe I won't need them in 2013!
  5. No to the numbers game - An extension of the Challenge-Free 2013, this means no numerical target next year.  Not that I ever expect to hit it anyway, but subconsciously it seems I still feel the need to boost my numbers via quick reads.  My average on a free year seems to be around 40-45 books, so why am I aiming for 75?!
  6. Use the TV guide, Luke - Instead of switching on TV Catchup at 7pm and watching whatever's on, I really want to start planning ahead again.  There are so many wonderful-looking series and one-offs that I've missed because I just didn't bother checking the TV guide online or in the paper.  I can't watch everything, but I won't spot the gems unless I look!
  7. Interacting mindfully - One of my main problems is focus.  How am I reading properly if I'm sitting a foot away from a humming laptop screen?  How am I watching a programme properly if I've got Twitter open in the next tab?  Instead of doing multiple things at once, I'm trying to practise doing one thing at a time.  When something else flits across my mind, I'm trying to set it aside for afterwards.
  8. New and shiny doesn't mean better - Just because a book's hot off the press and everyone's talking about it, doesn't mean I have to buy it right this minute.  In fact, it's often better to wait until the filter's kicked in a bit and there's a more balanced response out there, so I know whether it's worth reading or not.  Being a blogger doesn't mean I have to jump on every bandwagon that rolls past - especially when there are so many awesome books already waiting for me on my bookshelves.
  9. Allow one thing to lead to another - Once upon a time, I would read a bunch of books on a particular topic within a short space of time, because one naturally led to another and I couldn't get enough.  Or maybe I'd watch an amazing programme and want to read the book behind it (Ben Macintyre tends to make a compelling one-off BBC documentary every time he has a new book out, for example), or see a biopic movie and want to know more.  Instead of thinking, "Oh no, I should mix things up more for the blog!" I'd like to go back to following the book trail wherever it may lead!  Who am I reading for, in the end?!
  10. Finding a balance - I don't want to implement a reading plan or only ever watch BBC Four for the rest of my life - but nor do I want to continue to waste hours and hours of my time reading books I'm not enjoying, watching comedy episodes I've only seen two days earlier, and obsessively trawling epic Pinterest boards for days at a time.  Hopefully just being conscious of everything I've talked about this week will help me make better choices and do what I want, when I want, instead of feeling constrained by self-inflicted pressures that I've accidentally allowed to take over!


Crunching numbers and making sweeping statements can start to sound prescriptive, but ultimately this entire Epiphany triptych is about regaining a balance that has been skewed by what I have perceived to be my blogging responsibilities, by my sheer laziness in my free time, and by force of bad habit.  Instead I want to use my time wisely, to read as the mood strikes, to watch some fantastic television alongside the fluff, to break up my evenings between different things instead of spending the whole night hopping across the internet without even realising.  As I have found in the past, before the shop started, before the blog, before challenges and targets and reviews - THAT'S what makes this reader happy.  It's time to rekindle the passion I have for books and learning and everything they bring into my life...  I can't wait to get started!

Thanks to everyone who's read along for the past few days and left comments - there have been some interesting suggestions, lots of 'OMG ME TOO' moments, a little mutual inspiration, and plenty of discussion!  As always, feel free to continue the conversation below (and do a little Carlton Wiggle while you're at it).  I'm off to read me some Anne Fadiman before The Hour comes on, woohoo!  :)