Thursday, February 16, 2006

I can read after all

Roughly a year ago I posted a message complaining that I was having difficulty reading - or rather difficulty choosing which book to read and finding it hard to see it through without picking up another. "My concentration has just gone", I wrote. "As soon as I start one book I lose the thread, get distracted, start other things, forget where I am...". I picked out seven books, six of which I had started to read since Christmas 2004 and only one of which I had finished. Amongst the books I'd started but failed to see through were Francis Wheen's book on Mumbo Jumbo, Iain Bank's sci-fi epic The Algebraist and Michael Palin's Himalaya. A year on I have to admit that I didn't finish any of them, although I made it to the finish line with a couple of others.

In fact, looking back, I'm ashamed to say that I probably read less last year than I have in any year in ten to fifteen years. Why was this? I'm not sure really - a combination of factors; an increasingly dependent addiction to newspapers meant I spent more train journeys with the paper than with a book. My iPod further limited books read, as I find it completely impossible to either (a) go a day without listening to Pavement and (b) read while I am listening to music.

Further to that, I certainly watched more TV and cinema last year than I ever have before, although that isn't quite as cretinous as it sounds; I find non-fiction reading quite hard going and a developing interest in history, nature and the environment has meant I've turned to documentary series like Schama's History of Britain, Alistair Cooke's America, the BBC's excellent Coast, and their even more wonderful David Attenborough and Michael Palin programmes. Equally, I've turned round a long standing lack of interest in film and an inability to stick any film longer than about eighty minutes. Nanowrimo in November meant I went an entire month without reading a book (other than the one I was writing), which is a first.

Which is not to say that I didn't read some excellent books last year, but not perhaps as many as normal. I'm determined to get back on track this year and, although I've employed a similarly chaotic method to my reading habits (two or three books at a time), I'm ploughing through stuff and really enjoying it.

Finished so far in the last couple of months:
Tim Parks's Rapids - which is by no means his best work but still utterly thrilling.
The Strange Death of Tory England by Geoffrey Wheatcroft - which features remarkably vivid descriptions of all sorts of nightmarish folk.
The Life of Pi by Yann Martell - a guilty unfinished secret from way back which I finally completed.
Banksy's Wall and Piece - which, OK, doesn't feature a lot of text, but it's comparitively rare to find an art book where the text is this interesting - even if it is all a bit glib.

Currently reading and making good progress:
The People's Act of Love by James Meek - hard to believe that John Banville's 'The Sea', which beat this to the Booker Prize, could be a better book.
Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive - which is tough going but fascinating.
Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything - which I tore through last year and am now reading more measuredly, with a great deal more pleasure.

And sitting in an impatient pile on my desk:
Cleaver: A Novel by, yes, Tim Parks again. It just arrived from Amazon this morning. I'm improbably excited.
The Rough Guide to Montreal - because I'm going there in a couple of months
The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting back - and How we Can Still Save Humanity by James Lovelock - more guilty "I-really-should-read-this-because-otherwise-the-world-will-die" stuff. Looks good though.

So perhaps I'll get a bit more stuff read this year... Tune in next February to find out.

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