Morgan Bell is a movie and book reviewer for Salty Popcorn, author of Sniggerless Boundulations, contributor to several anthologies and editor of the upcoming Sproutlings. A good friend and supporter of writers in Newcastle, she’s written a guest post for me while I’ve been under the weather.
READING FOR PLEASURE: WHY DID YOU STOP?
You used to be an avid reader as a kid, consuming books ravenously, your library card tattered and maxed out. But now as an adult you can barely concentrate on novels. You buy a lot of books with good intentions but really struggle to read them. You become embarrassed and don’t want to admit you are a slow-reader, and rarely finish books you start.
One of the most common reasons you stop pleasure-reading is that you choose to pursue tertiary education. If you have a lot of reading to do for your academic study, or as part of your job, you become a certain kind of reader who is accustomed to reading specific non-fiction formats.
You can begin to associate reading with work.
It then seems like a tiresome chore.
Academic and professional reading involves a lot of scanning and skimming. It involves gleaning for key words, bullet point lists, and subheadings. Too much time spent exclusively in the business-reading world can make it impossible for you to cope with a text that doesn’t come with an executive summary or a precis.
When you try to go back to reading novels it can be really difficult. Novels are generally free-form with little internal structure. You cannot go into them with rigid expectations.
Here are three tips to getting back into reading for pleasure:
- Mix up your media
- Rediscover the public library
- Start with short stories
MIX UP YOUR MEDIA
It is possible that when you grew up there wasn’t a great amount of diversity in fiction delivery. The technology didn’t exist or the cost was prohibitive or there was a social stigma about delivery modes and/or genre fiction.
We now live in a more tolerant world, where certain comic books are not the exclusive realm of nerds and losers. Where the definitions of “women’s books” or “men’s books” or “children’s books” are slowly losing their meaning.
Audible has made audiobooks accessible to everyone. Plug in a set of headphones to your mobile phone and listen to your Audible purchases on your commute to work, while your exercise, or while you do the dishes. Listening is a form of reading.
Smartphones have made every phone an e-reader. You don’t need a specialised device. You don’t need to lug heavy books around in your handbag or backpack. And authors have embraced the digital format. There are Kindle Singles, individually published short stories, and electronic versions of literary journals, magazines, essays, picture books, comics, graphic novels, poetry, and zines.
REDISCOVER THE PUBLIC LIBRARY
Over your life your tastes change. Your opinions change. Your values change. Maybe not 100%, but they shift, expand, shrink, skew. It is possible that what you are going to enjoy reading today is different to what you enjoyed reading a decade ago, or in your youth.
Browsing the library is the book version of free samples. Grab a few books from different shelves and sections, take your stack over to a table, and, in the relaxing cool and quiet, read the first pages of a whole bunch of books. Have a yes and no pile. The books won’t be offended.
You might start to see a pattern in what you find the most readable or intriguing. You might have new preferences for narrative voice, point of view, tense, experimentation, tropes, escapism, self-reflection, hooks, slow burns, conflicts, themes, or even happy endings.
Libraries also lend magazines, periodicals, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and e-books these days.
START WITH SHORT STORIES
The shorter the better.
Nano, micro, vignette, flash … then maybe stretch yourself to a novella.
It can be a difficult adjustment to get back into self-motivated, self-directed, solitary reading. The studies that you have undertaken during your pleasure-reading sabbatical may have left you waiting for someone to assign you a book before you read it, and then test you on your comprehension of it afterwards.
You may feel like reading materials ought to be increasingly challenging to be worth your time. While you are relaxing into the idea of reading as a carefree exercise, you should tap into some meaningful and engaging short story collections.
My top five are:
- The Devil’s Larder by Jim Crace
- Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy
- The Turning by Tim Winton
- Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I am currently reading a paperback of An Astronaut’s Life, a collection by Sonja Dechian, listening to the audiobook of Tenth of December, a collection by George Saunders, and e-booking Snow & Shadow, a collection by Dorothy Tse.
Short stories are ultra-condensed little lessons on life, the meatiest little chunks to savour and consider. They don’t ask you for the over-investment that a novel does when you are focussed on evaluating style and messages. They respect that your time is precious, your patience finite, and your joy is inextricably linked to analysis.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for short story collections to read. If you would like the full list there is an Editor’s Choice Reading List as a $2 pledge reward on the Kickstarter for the anthology of flash fiction I am currently editing.
The paperback of Sproutlings: A Compendium of Little Fictions is just $20 delivered to your door in Australia – when pre-ordered through the Kickstarter – and features over 40 delectable slices of flash fiction about wicked plants. It might be just the thing to pull you out of your reading slump!
Find the Kickstarter campaign here.