To accurately answer that question, it bears asking when and why I started in the first place. I suspect it might be the same as many — the high school english class novel. Of course here I refer to commencing reading the full-length novel, having bypassed the Bible and many shorter stories from primary school.
Perhaps the most appalling aspect of reminiscing about this is exactly how little I remember about these early novels — of which there must have been at least half a dozen throughout my secondary schooling. The one I do remember? Educating Rita by Willy Russell, subsequently the subject of a movie and many a theatre production — and not forgetting of course — the high school book review and analysis. Speaking of appalling — the reason I remember it? The sheer excitement at the prospect of one of my classmates or — heaven forbid — me, being able to read aloud in class the first Department of Education book we had come across containing a profanity, ironically so commonly used in the playground just outside the window.
I even remember who said it, and I’d also bet money I also distinctly remember he cleared his throat at the beginning of the sentence, and projected that word like he had not done before, and never did thereafter, in the playground or otherwise. Yes, the maturity of high school boys can be quite astounding at times.
The traveller’s read
Let us safely say then, the reading bug was not generated by my high school experiences, and again, perhaps I am not alone here. Coincidentally though, it was at this very time I was bitten by the reading bug, simply for very different reasons.
My secondary schooling was very much a time of great sporting endeavour and heroics, however very much at the expense of a certain amount of academic focus. Thankfully by my final year I managed to achieve a certain amount success in both. Ironically, it was the sporting side of my teenage life which triggered my discovery of reading for enjoyment rather than classroom necessity.
Whilst waiting in an airport departure lounge when 15 or 16 years of age, I noticed a book containing a collection of four stories titled The Bachman Books, which sounded like a decent read. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. I seemed to recall the (true) name of the author, and thought I would take a punt on it being a worthwhile way to pass the time.
What can I say? I loved it! I don’t believe I really wanted to get on the plane that day, and continued reading all the way to touching down once I did. So away I went, well on the way to a lifetime of reading enjoyment. Over the next couple of years, my bookshelf filled with an endless row of Stephen King novels, which also transformed many otherwise boring flights or bus trips.
Upon leaving school to attend University, perhaps my thoughts turned from the supernatural and horror to (supposedly) more real life events, and it was at this time I came across two things – John Grisham’s The Firm, and a realisation that I seemed destined to pick an author, and fill my bookshelves predominantly with their work. I should also probably add here the slight obsessive in me had to have them all in new release hardback. How else was one’s bookshelf to look even?
Given The Firm was Grisham’s second novel, I immediately jumped back to his first, A Time to Kill, which remains one of my favourites to this day. As my collection grew with yearly Grisham releases, I also seemed drawn to international spy thrillers and other such conspiracies, before settling on the crime fiction genre through my late 20’s. Thus beginning a long run of Michael Connelly, which began in 1996 with The Poet.
I must add here one particular year (1998) also contained a run of Carl Hiaasen novels, which — anyone who has read them will understand — are great books to read if perhaps, you were working in a job for 12 months which wasn’t really your favourite place to be.
Meaning no disrespect to any of the above authors, you may of course notice an absence of anything that would be classed as particularly literary. We all have our tastes, and those above and the many others I’ve not mentioned were immensely enjoyable nonetheless. So we now return to the question — why stop?
I have probably enjoyed reminiscing on what I have written above more so than coming up with an answer here. Further, I don’t really believe there is a single answer. It certainly wasn’t technology, however I cannot deny the impact my fairly digital lifestyle has had on reading in the past, say three or four years. Although as I note below, in more recent times the power of the internet has helped in bringing me back to reading.
Probably the biggest impact at the outset was a combination of very young children and some less than desirable working hours. Certainly no excuse, however clearly my priorities at the time lay elsewhere — and given their importance in the journey to where I am today, I would do the same again.
Looking back, what did surprise me the most I guess is the fact I essentially stopped reading completely (other than professionally), for about six to eight years in all. Now that I do find appalling, not only in losing something I found so enjoyable, but also in the knowledge my efforts to be a better writer rely heavily on being a better reader.
The answer then, was fairly easy to come by after all I suppose. Could I say life got in the way? Perhaps, however more accurately it would be a combination of life’s priorities and an error by omission on my part.
Why the concerted effort now to read more again? There are many reasons: realisation of the benefit; seeing my children’s bookshelves slowly filling as they find their own tastes and styles; casting my mind back to something which brought great enjoyment yet has somehow fallen off my radar; and probably the most telling — the simple fact reading (or not) is something I have direct control over regardless of anything else which may be going on in my life.
In an interesting way, writing this blog, participating in NaNoWriMo in 2014, and an interest in podcasts have also contributed to a renewed effort to get back into reading. All in many ways powered by technology and social media.
The blog and NaNoWriMo seem fairly obvious — clearly the objective here is to read more and eventually write a little better as a result. The desire to create more — and with better quality — has fuelled the need to consume more.
The role of a podcast? A little more obscure perhaps, however after coming across Covered, by Harry Marks, a discussion about various books, often with their authors, my interest piqued even further. I can thank Covered for pointing me towards very enjoyable reads this year, in Consumed by Aaron Mahnke, and the superb Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler.
Fortunately, I have also rediscovered the power of the essay, and if you’d like to do the same, you need look no further than Matt Gemmell’s Raw Materials. If what I have seen so far is any guide (site membership perks being what they are), Matt’s first full length work due for publication later this year will be another highlight.
Although a little disjointed and certainly not intended to be an exhaustive history of my reading to date, what appears above were the things which came to mind recently reflecting on the very question which is the title of this post.
The realisation I had drifted away from the reading I enjoyed immensely so many years ago, to a list dominated by professional journals and publications was a fairly disappointing one to say the least. Of course priorities change — and rightly so — out of necessity and the various stages we reach in our lives, both professionally and personally.
If by now you have already concluded that I of course had the time to continue reading, and I simply did not make the time to do so, you would be absolutely correct. To bring this piece towards a close, let’s go with one of the most overused clichés we can find — it’s never too late.
Although a walk in the park compared to those of you who power through a mountain of books each year, in January I set a target of reading 24 books for the year. As June rolls along, I have read nine. Will I make it? Perhaps not, however even reaching two-thirds of the target will be an improvement on the past year — or six.