Pick something

My groaning to-read shelf

In the bookshop I let my eyes drift over bright modern covers and serious-looking classics. I didn’t buy a book. I have books. My problem is I can’t choose one to read. Fiction. Buying a novel is a cheat—it gives the dopamine hit of a decision without requiring the commitment of following it through. I could have bought five books from five different genres that together represented something vital in me, and I would have felt excited, validated, alive even, and they all would have gone on my ever-expanding shelf at home where I wouldn’t read them. This time next week my butterfly soul would have landed somewhere else.

I met my friend Tim for dinner last week. He’s a writer, and I don’t see him enough, even though he’s nearby. As he walked with me back to the train station, I blurted out that we should start a book club, and meet up more regularly to talk about books. The next day I posted a photo of my to-read shelves on social media and tagged him in. He suggested one of three that he’d ordered. I let him choose. The final choice is, at the time of typing, undecided.

It’s a cliché to express the despair and overwhelm at the reality of all culture available all the time. I’ve said it enough myself, but I still haven’t come up with a strategy that works to get me to consistently fucking pick something. Asking Tim to choose a book is another cheat, albeit a lesser one, because at least I will read the book.

Tim said something that hit home. When he feels overwhelmed with family life, say in the summer holidays with his two young children, and he finds a sliver of free time, he gets back to the book he’s reading. That way he can, in his words, maintain a vivid inner life when his external world is at the mercy of others.

When I have ten or twenty minutes spare, I play the golf video game, or browse news online, or open social media apps on my phone, or review my film watchlist, or eat something when I’m not hungry, or make a cup of tea when I’m not thirsty. I NEVER read a book. Those other activities might help me relax, but none of them serve my soul.

The irony is, reading is the ultimate pick up and put down pastime. I see my daughter listen (listen!) to television shows while she makes lunch or does homework. I’ve never been able to multi-task like that. Words don’t go in unless I am giving them my full attention. When I’ve given myself a film challenge, I’ve watched films in thirty minute segments, because that was all the time I had, and it wasn’t as satisfying as watching them in one go. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like television drama series. I need to watch a story in one go if possible, but I can read a book happily in several sittings.

My summer holiday is at the end of August. I’ve been planning on reading more then, when I will have more time, but that’s another cheat. Holidays are not everyday life, and if I’m not reading every week, I’m not suddenly going to start in that week.

I’m currently reading Eastmouth and Other Stories, by Alison Moore. Short stories are perfect for those fifteen minute gaps in the day, and that’s how I’m reading them. After all that reflection, I’d forgotten that I’ve already started moving towards a fresh reading habit. It’s funny what you forget.