Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Now everyone is talking about books, and reading and storage!

Blimey. On the back of my last post about bookshelves, I get home and find Charlie Brooker has wailed about his heaving shelves; Lucy Mangan is singing the praises of the Billy bookcase (if she has 21 of them in her house this may suggest LM has more books than we do: this feels wrong); and then Susan Hill is on Front Row 5/10/09 on about her new book on not buying new books for a year - and reading/rereading her existing provisions (Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home).

Charlie Brooker points up the dangers of ending up not reading the same book twice (on which point, Neil have you even read one of the editions of Milan Kundera's Immortality that you ended up owning?); being oppressed by choice and by commitment - how do you justify watching comforting crap when you haven't yet watched that worthy drama? and DVD boxsets, we're looking at you; and the potential benefits of being limited in what you can watch and read.

The first comment ties up nicely to Susan Hill's point: that it is all too easy to end up just accumulating more rather than dealing with what we have. Indeed, although we're prodigious readers in our house, I suspect there may be far more unread tomes lurking on our shelves than Neil or I would like to admit. But Charlie's second point then kicks in: virtue over pleasure. I know there are things I should watch/read, that I am even fairly certain I would get something out of, but when time is short it is hard to justify finding enough time to appreciate. Movies of 3 hours plus? That's either an early start to the evening or a very late night. Long books, or worthy books? That's concentration and a lot of hours. Multiply by X for those seductive boxsets. Which of course ties up to Charlie's third point on choice: would it be better to have less choice?

It can be too easy to take for granted the freedoms we have in what we can watch and read, but that doesn't mean that aren't benefits in more controlled activities. I don't think I'd want to have 'the man' knocking at the door each month with my regulation text, but there is a lot to be said for the 'guided reading' of doing a course or joining a book/film club. Not least the communal aspect of communicating about the text with others.

And what of Susan Hill's ideas? Well, I was certainly reassured by her attitude on Jane Austen (not a great fan, likes Northanger Abbey best), especially since the most enjoyable Austen I've read recently was the hysterical re-visioning of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Definitely Austen's best work (with Seth Grahame-Smith making a significant contribution). And I liked the idea of re-evaluating works to see if they hold up to the passion and enthusiasm they instilled first time round. Or even just finding time to get into the rhythm of reading at length - something I've been trying to do more of recently, with some degree of success.

Above all, as much as I sympathise with the frustration of Brooker, I'm leaning more to the bookshelf filling enthusiasm of Mangan and the 'ways of re-evaluating' of Hill. I don't want to stop getting hold of new stuff, but I do want to find ways to keep up more with reading what I already have - or making the valuable decision to allow someone else to have the pleasure/pain of the item. I'm still seduced by the boxset and the appealing cover/title, but I don't want to be beholden to the new and yet more.

There has to be a middle way of appreciating what there is already whilst allowing the self to offload or admit defeat on all the things that we haven't got around to reading/watching.


Persephone said...

I try to let my shelves limit me. I refuse to buy any more shelves (though I may have to eat my words, given that some of the present ones began falling apart years ago). I cull the shelves yearly for the book fair, and don't buy books that I can obtain at the library, and think I'd only read the once. You'd think this would work. There's still an overflow. I can only comfort myself with the thought of how bad things would be if I didn't take these measures.

I can't take in most worthwhile books or movies in one reading/viewing. I could be much more widely-read, but then I wouldn't retain anything. For this reason, I tend to choose books and films carefully and bitterly resent them if they're a waste of time.

Rob said...

Well this is scary. I drop by to wish you a very belated happy birthday (sorry!) and find you have linked to the Charlie Brooker piece I was going to post on in a minute, and two other good articles. We have 3 Billys and may be getting more, though that's so I can vacate the wall of shelves in my daughter's room (4 little words that mean wading through a midden of discarded paraphernalia to ge to the books). And I had to laugh at the Susan Hill link, which features a large button labelled "Buy this book". Shouldn't that read "Wait until next year"?

I have sometimes not read the same library book twice. I tend to alternate reading library books (like Persephone, I don't often buy books the library has) and my own backlog. There is thus a little buffer of library-books-waiting-to-be-read in which items can sit for a while, especially if they're large novels. Neal Stephenson's "The System Of the World" is a large novel, last in a trilogy thereof. A year or so back I got it out, whereupon it sat in the bookcase for many renewals. As I was about 25% through it, somebody else reserved it. I now have it out again, but have dived straight back in this time. I have taken out books that were reserved by someone else before I even began them.

And as for films more than 3 hours long, spare a thought for us Bollywood fans, espacially when the BBC run seasons of lste-night showing of classics.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Ha, ta for the visits you both.

Persephone: I really should borrow more from the library. I used to use libraries all the time but now I am consigned to the academic environs, getting hold of the sort of pulpy stuff I would (perhaps) prefer to read on loan just isn't feasible. And the local library hours are hopeless for me. Bah.

And Rob: there are a lot of books with bookmarks marking where I stopped and need to pick up again. But occasionally I have a reading fit where I am galloping through texts at a rapid rate. I'm about the start the finale of the Larsson Millennium trilogy but given that is a beast sized book, that will be a week I guess.