By Letitia Coyne
Posted July 12, 2012
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I stopped reading a while ago.
Now I’ve never been a compulsive reader, but for most of my life I’ve had a book on the go. One or two crusty paperbacks, with folded over pages or an old price tag or shopping docket sticking out to mark my place, were likely to be found lying beside the bed, on the dining table, and one or two beside the loo.
I didn’t really notice that I had stopped reading; it just sort of ground to a halt as I lost interest in whatever it was I had begun at the time. Why? Partly because I like bookstores more than I like books. I love them. I can lose hours in a bookstore browsing and I hate to spend hours doing anything and coming home with nothing to show for it. So going into a bookstore means buying at least one book to read. That wouldn’t be a problem on its own.
I also like a bargain, so I buy boxes of secondhand books from online marketplaces. The last box I bought, a long while ago, held eighty books. That is such a bargain, or it would be if I had been able to read them all.
But having books is no guarantee they’ll be read. One thing makes reading a certainty. I give books a third of their page count to have me so gripped I do not want to put them down. The only thing that ensures a book will be read from cover to cover is that it is compelling. I don’t mind a build-up; I’ll allow some latitude, but if I start checking how thick the book is, chances are it will be put down and forgotten. If I start getting the irrits with the voice of the author, or if I have no emotional connection to the characters, or if the plot is more a plod – it’s gone.
Once reading a book becomes a chore it is over for me.
There are times in my life when I have mountains of text to read. It always needs full concentration and often needs critique. I go into a mode to read that much. I do not enjoy it; I watch the clock and I get through it like wading through a mangrove swamp. When I have a lot of nonfiction to read, I do not have any patience with unsatisfying fiction.
As I age, the act of reading gets harder, too. My eyes tire faster than they used to, my concentration lapses. I tend to nod off unexpectedly, and wake with a fright and a stiff neck and a little spot of drool on my shirt. I take medications that make the text appear to move, or my head fill with cotton, or my mind wander. It takes a power of will to be engrossed in a story if the author does not provide that incentive for me.
I am so busy. There is always something or someone that needs my attention. Books are squashed into the spaces around doing, eating, and sleeping. They have to be exceptional to hold their own.
Finding something worthwhile in the genres I enjoy has become an impossibility. There is always something good to find in the genre I will dare to call ‘Literary fiction’. The well recommended. The beautifully written novels that stand alone at the bookstore or on the Classics shelf. They are not always to my taste, but the score rate is high for quality. The truth is, however, they are often a bit dark and painful. I usually want to read to lighten the mood, not to suffer the frigid winters along with a family stricken by the bonds of human suffering.
I don’t enjoy reading Romance because it is so rigidly formulaic. It is rare to find an author who can produce the right balance between good writing and hitting exact markers for plot and characters. That is common complaint with Romance, but I find it has become true for fantasy and sci fi, too, and for political thrillers etc. I do not want to be able to predict the end or the next sentence of dialogue.
They are some of the reasons I stopped reading. All of publishing has become a mush of rules and guidelines that stamped out any individual voices and bashed stories into a set and predictable pattern and I simply do not have the patience to endure it all again and again and again.
The emergence of online fiction, in webserials, primarily, and in ebooks as they take their place in the storybook world, has brought me a renewed vigour for reading. I find things I want to read. I now buy paperbacks which I am able to deliberate over before I rush to the counter with an ill-considered purchase. I have an ereader which I have packed full of the work of people I have followed and watched develop and that I know I will enjoy. I have a computer screen that takes my attention away from boring work reading, because I know I can flip up a short episode of a serial I enjoy and give myself a break from reality.
There is a heavy demand for everyone’s time and attention in our modern world. What are the things that keep you reading, or have you tossing books at the wall in disgust? Worse still, is there something that makes you wander away from a story without even feeling angry – just dissatisfied and bored? Are there barriers to your enjoyment of a book that all authors should keep in mind?
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