me I don’t set quantitative reading goals for myself. I read like I live, compulsively and without much planning, which means that I have an average of one hundred books a year, mostly fiction. In terms of sheer dough, it suits me just fine, it’s just that I often don’t remember almost anything about them once I’m done. I read a lot, but very badly. This has never been more evident than in 2020, when my tendency to not read anything or to binge mindlessly crystallized.
Almost two months passed in which all I could read were desperate tweets, news, and emails from friends. I was also unable to listen to music or watch movies with any focus. When summer came, he had started reading again, with irregularities and a spirit of mania rather than relaxation or contemplation. I read dozens of thrillers in a particularly stressful week, filling in the backlogs of some pretty prolific authors, and couldn’t have told you much about them the next morning.
My literary comfort food is fat novels about families and marriages, the more domestic and of little importance in terms of material drama, the better. I like fights and almost imperceptible emotional whims and unrealized infidelity. I read dozens of these this year too, again in the slippery deluge of sheer consumption with which I soaked up interchangeable thrillers. Some of these books were artistically constructed and stylistically impressive and emotionally insightful, and some of them were the equivalent of a more bland Nancy Meyers movie, all empty middle-class discomfort and loud chatter about nothing much. Little did I care what kind they were in my undiscerning haze. I just wanted to be calm, feel passive, satiated and safe, and sometimes I did. My reading, superficial, quick and lacking in reflection as it was, was a method of coping and I do not regret it.
In 2021, however, I intend to put these habits behind me and begin a life of reading that has more ambition. I have been thinking about a practice my father had when I was a child. He bought me a book every week or so – he said that if there was one thing we should splurge on it was that – and it turned out that for every three snippets of frivolous reading I financed, a more difficult book was added to my book. library. If I read Nickelodeon show serials for three weeks, the fourth would try Dickens or whatever else in the classics and literature sections that caught my eye.
When I became a teenager, just before the internet was totally ubiquitous, my cultural habits were excitable and hungry. I stumbled upon things that I liked and used as a basis for digression. I read advertisements on the back of The Virgin Suicides and then he looked for the authors to whom Jeffrey Euginedes was being compared. I read the newspaper reviews and jotted down the references I didn’t understand and tried to catch up. I randomly bought something in the “what’s new” section of my local bookstore every few weeks. This meant that I read things that I found disconcerting, obnoxious, and boring, but I rarely regretted doing so.
As an adult I became lazy. I learned what kind of book gives me the most pleasure and I read thousands more like them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with reading for pleasure, but there is a certain balance between entertainment and enlightenment, something that I achieved briefly in my youth, when I read a lot and challenged myself regularly. At the time I did not consider a book that refused to give me comfort to be a book failure. I often read unfamiliar words and ideas that I needed to work hard to figure out for myself, and once I found my way to what had led me, there were more rewards.
Now is not the time to punish ourselves, and I am not berating myself when I say that I want to expand my repertoire this year. We have lost not only emotional peace and comfort through the Covid-19 catastrophe, but also emotion. We have stress, no doubt, and anxiety, but there is no dynamism, there is no movement. I think that trying to read with a renewed openness will not be a punishment but something to alleviate, just a little, the loss I feel for not having color in my life. The notion of self-care can sometimes be reformulated as strictly indulgent behaviors to the detriment of the self that is supposed to be cared for; Grabbing a bottle of wine and take-out pizza to relax is great, but taking care of yourself also means doing the dishes, going for a walk, and taking a shower.
When I was a kid I was more open to trying anything because I still didn’t know who it was going to be. I always wanted to convert, and that is why I was eager to read it all. Even the things I hated had value because they gave me new information about myself. There comes a time for most adults when they think they have ceased to be, but we never do. There are always more changes to come. I want my reading life to reflect this as we try to endure a time when stagnation is unfortunately mandatory. I will take my father’s three part pleasure and one part challenge approach to try and get there.
• Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation to be published in March by Jonathan Cape.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism