Reading and a New Year’s Resolution in June
I stopped reading for pleasure nearly 15 years ago. It wasn’t on purpose. I entered grad school and set upon a diligent bout of reading for the next 6 years, all of which was interesting and little of which was pleasurable. In the two years it took me to write and defend my dissertation, I spent a lot more time writing than reading, but still, reading for pleasure was not in the cards. Then I started teaching, a job I was both eager and grateful to have. And I spent time reading textbooks, doing lesson prep, grading.
Reading was part of working. Rarely did it seem like something fun. This is probably part of the reason why I’m not constitutionally cut out for academic life.
There was the occasional periodic jag of reading for fun, if there was a good book to read before bed. But honestly, I find Sudoku or crosswords a bit more palatable in the hours when my eyes begin to hurt and my brain starts to shut down.
I used to read all the time. I’d bring a stack of upwards of twenty books on vacation. A librarian once told me I couldn’t check out all of the books that I wanted. I scowled and told her I’d come back for the other half next week.
I like letting my brain shut down. I like escapism. But dumb escapism hurts. Tim Burton has a killer design sense, but can’t tell a good story. Terry Gilliam struggles as well. I just saw Alice in Wonderland and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus upon my sickened return from Prague and had both of those feelings re-affirmed.
One of my resolutions for 2010 was that I would make more of an effort to watch better movies this year. Of the three I watched on the return trip at the end of the Fringe, The Messenger in my five-hour layover in Chopin, and Pirate Radio and Fantastic Mr. Fox on the flight, the first was far and away my preferred film. No two ways about it. Good storytelling, good emotional connection, good dramatic tension. It worked for me on all levels.
I’m reading heavy-duty stuff right now. Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, and I’m picking up (again) John Carey’s What Good are the Arts? And it is pleasurable, but the same way a good workout is. It’s hard, but refreshing. I just turned off a bad old Bond film, The Living Daylights, and later on I’ll pick up Daniel Pinkwater’s Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl.
Some of my favorite fiction is the stuff called “young adult.” It’s often more imaginative that what passes for “fantasy,” and the best writers are as engaging as the classical stuff. I’ll take The Amulet of Samarkand over The Sorrows of Young Werther any day.
Speaking of exercising, World Cup is on.