27 April 2003

  Bookreading. These days, though I'm a fast reader, I take a long time to get through books. I don't know if anyone ever even looks at the 'currently reading' section on my weblog, or on anyone else's for that matter, but if they do look at mine, they'll notice it takes a heck of a long time for the titles to change and for me to get through what I'm reading. Well, not always -- once I knew I had an interview fixed with William Gibson, I tore through Pattern Recognition and did some dabbling in the early novels I'd already read in the space of about two days. And enjoyed every nanosecond. (Now, to go back at a more leisurely pace over the summer, after giving PR a little time to blur out again in my mind, so I can re-enjoy the sentences properly).

It's easy to get out of the habit of reading for yourself, even if you adore books. Let me explain. A few years ago, although I'd spent several years doing a literature PhD, I stopped reading for pleasure. Actually, it was because I was doing the PhD that I stopped reading for pleasure. Like most PhD students, I struggled under the constant agony of The Imposter Syndrome (eg: every one else deserves to be here, but I was somehow accepted on the day some temp secretary was given the job of sending out the acceptance letters, and they accepted me by mistake. Horrific mistake). And on top of that, long corridors of books I should read, I must read, I'd try to read in order to do an adequate job on the dissertation, grimly unfurled before me. Don't get me wrong: I loved the engagement with so many minds, through so many books, courtesy of tackling the enormity of a PhD (and a lit PhD is... dauntingly enormous, especially in the classless environment of Irish/UK universities, where you are just dropped into pure research, with little formal structure). But fears that I could never, ever do all the reading I needed to do in order to submit the required "wholly original piece of scholarly work" meant I resented the time an unnecessary book might take from my academic duties. I was terrified that I couldn't possibly read enough, not even enough to get by.

Years later, I know I should have recognised that a balanced amount of recreational reading was necessary reading, for both sanity and perspective. And  as for 'proper' degree reading: boy, did I read a lot of ultimately uninformative claptrap, especially by academics,  in the pursuit of the degree. (That, of course, was a key relevation: just because someone is the Head of Turgid Prosody at Nobrainer University does not mean s/he has written A Contribution to the Scholarly Knowledge Base. But mid-degree, one bows down before those writing from the throne of tenured staff position, assuming they (unlike you!) are NOT imposters. Cue sound of mirthless laughter.)

Eventually -- and this is the exciting part -- you also learnt to have critical judgement -- to realise what works in the context of your research, and what doesn't. You increase your body of knowledge, and can better stand in judgement of other research. But you only really realise how much you know after you're done, the thing's written, and the ink is drying on your diploma, and legally, you can be addressed as 'Dr'. Though too you realise that some very talented, smart people drop out because they either don't have the discipline or simply find better things to do than complete a PhD. While other very talentless folk finish, because they are dullards happy to plug away at the thing every day and never question their glorious abilities. You see it all.

It took a post-PhD stint in a hospital bed and then a home convalescence a couple of years ago to kickstart my once-voracious reading habit again. I brought five books to hospital with me for five days, and while waiting around all morning before I got to debut on the operating table (which is a rather nerve-wracking wait), I'd managed to (nervously) nearly finish off number one, a collection of short stories. One down, four to go, and they went fast. So I had to ask a few friends to bring in new brain fodder while I lay there amongst the flowers!

I've never looked back. Even if I come back from a party at 4am (not unlikely if you live in Ireland, since outside of vampires I don't think any collective group is as enthusiastically nocturnal as the Irish), I have to read before I can sleep. Even if several sheets to the wind. I need just 10 minutes, even, to refocus my mind. Sure, writers can get my mind racing with ideas, but for some reason -- perhaps the orderliness of the words -- I tend to fall asleep better, maybe processing words and ideas happily in the dream-world.

But -- unless on a placid holiday somewhere quiet -- I tend to only get a proper read in just before I am going to sleep. So my 'currently reading' section stays worryingly inert for days or even weeks at a time. The gallop through Pattern Recognition (so fast, I never even did the html to put it on the blog) was a reminder to try and grab more time in afternoons and evenings for books. A summer resolution, from someone who never has time to properly think about new year's resolutions until... well into spring.

PS - BTW, I like to link my 'currently reading' titles to an interesting review, or interview with the author, or writer webpage, rather than to somewhere that you can buy the book.

2:51:48 PM  #   your two cents []

NY Times:

"We attempted to dialogue for a while, them telling me to go to the free-speech zone, me saying I was in it: the United States of America," Mr. Bursey said. Finally, he said, an airport policeman told him he had to put down his sign ("No War for Oil") or leave.

" `You mean, it's the content of my sign?' I asked him," Mr. Bursey said. "He said, `Yes, sir, it's the content of your sign.' " Mr. Bursey kept the sign and was arrested.

1:48:07 PM  #   your two cents []
Family tragedy drove Blair ambition. Tony Blair's desire to honour the memory of his mother was at the heart of his political ambition, his brother has told The Observer. [Guardian Unlimited]
12:53:14 PM  #   your two cents []
  A Post Mortem on Napster. In a new book, Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster, comes across as relatively mature compared with investors whose greed is blamed for hastening the company's demise. [New York Times: Technology]
12:52:14 PM  #   your two cents []
Webby Awards ceremony canceled. The poor economy and fears about traveling are blamed for the cancellation of the normally flamboyant ceremony. Instead, the winners will be announced on the Internet. [CNET News.com]
12:46:36 PM  #   your two cents []
Pundits weigh in on Apple's music plans. Service tipped to become "big Kahuna" of online music [InfoWorld: Top News]
12:44:47 PM  #   your two cents []
Robert Frost. "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper." [Quotes of the Day]
12:44:05 PM  #   your two cents []

Scott Rosenberg: "When you hear that Henry Norr has been fired because he falsified his time card, be assured that this is not the real issue. The Chronicle is getting him on a technicality because it wants to fire him for some other reason." [Scripting News] ...Absolutely. Hacks don't work to timetables, because news doesn't happen according to shift work schedules. There's something else going on here. You don't fire a great reporter for when he sticks his little punchcard into a timeclock (and Norr has been an excellent reporter -- I read his stuff all the time when I am back in the Bay Area with family, since my mid-Peninsula, newsaholic parents get the Chron and the San Jose Mercury delivered each morning, and usually pick up the free Palo Alto Daily each day, just to cover all bases). Are timeclocks common for staff of US papers? None of the Irish papers I have worked for have had such a thing.

12:42:35 PM  #   your two cents []