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The reader, unravelled

I look all around me on the blogoscope and all I see is post after post encapsulating what 2009 meant to people, usually in the form of “My Most Favourite Books/Songs/Snacks of 2009” lists.  I kinda like it, even if I haven’t seen more than, oh, two movies this year and certainly didn’t read enough books to make a list worth your while.  I’m not about to embark on such a list, explaining what I learnt and what the best bits of 2009 were.  But I want to mention one thing.  This year, I rediscovered reading in a way I haven’t for a while.   I used to read voraciously: I have always been a many-novels-on-the-go kinda reader, and I’m fast, achieving gusts of two or three novels per week while I was studying my undergraduate degree.  But in the past couple of years, that’s slowed right down.  To a crawl, a dribble, a trickle.  I didn’t even finish the Harry Potter series until this year, even though I started it while I was in high school (dick me, has that series really been around for ten years?).  What was I doing all that time?

Holy cow, I just remembered I finished my Masters in June!  That’s what I was doing.  I didn’t notice it so much while tits-deep in my studies, but when you’re studying, everything you’re reading is in topically-relevant chunks.  One week you read four articles and two essays and a study all about one particular facet of whatever stream of study you’re doing.  Then, recreationally, I was kinda tired of reading, so I just stuck to blogs and articles online — things I could chomp and digest in the space of 5-20 minutes.  Any more than that, I got bored and wandered off (as my generation is apparently notorious for doing, if you read anything about demographics written by someone over the age of 40 at the moment; honestly, it shits me to tears).  Then, after my Masters, suddenly there was time and, perhaps more importantly, space in my head, for a sustained, lengthy narrative.  Welcome back Novel!  It’s been a while.  I missed you!

So the past six months I have been reading up a storm.  I’ve reread old friends like Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels and Fay Weldon’s The Bulgari Connection, and made new ones like Lolita and Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.  I’ve discovered Lucy Knisley and she’s inspired me to chase up more comic/graphic novels if I can get my mitts on them, I’ve been reading articles and essays about reading (Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree was an awesome discovery at the second-hand book fair, as was When Books Die, an Australian collection of essay about what reading and books mean to people — absolutely fantastic) and I have been loving it.

It’s been fun and interesting and I cannot believe I went so long without reading this way.  It’s like…I don’t know. Rediscovering toast or milk or tea or something so fundamentally pleasurable and kind to the mind that I am astonished I could have done without it for so long.

The other unexpected pleasure has been finding out what extra reading does for your writing.  It’s like fuel.  The more you read, the more you write.  And by ‘you’ I mean ‘me’.  Or ‘I’, since that is grammatically correct.  I’ve noticed that when I’m struggling to write, when I can’t think of ideas (you’ll notice these patches mysteriously coincide with long silences on this here blog), I need to top up my brain with more reading.  Like I need to drink lots and lots of words before I have enough in my head to start rearranging them and writing them back out again.

One final unexpected discovery was the realisation that there is such thing as reader’s block.  I discovered this after a spree of reading — roaring through novels in a matter of days — when I picked up D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. I’ve tried D.H. Lawrence before and found him pretty dry going, so I don’t know why I thought this would be any different.  Maybe it was the cunning cover, which managed to subtly suggest an undercurrent of erotica?  I haven’t gotten further than a couple of chapters, so perhaps this comes out a bit later.  Anyway, it was a complete block.  I found it hard to concentrate on, and then when I picked up another book instead, I felt guilty about reading that, so I wasn’t reading anything at all.  Then I noticed that there were no reading police — no big warning posters reminding me of the wages of betrayal of a book — and decided, fuck it.  Back into Hercule Poirot. Unblocked, the reading spree started all over again.

Good to be back in the reading saddle, I have to say.

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