Reading a Novel

Somebody once said there’s a difference between a man who wants to read a book and a man who wants a book to read.

I still don’t understand what that means, but it sounds vaguely profound, in a profoundly vague sort of way.  The quote crossed my mind the other day  as I contemplated my endless shelves of books, my cardboard boxes full of more books and the books strewn around my living room.  Why?  Because these days, I don’t seem to read novels any more.

Is that something that comes with age?  Do we find ourselves unable to read fiction because we know full well that some gobshite made it up?  There was a time when I used to devour novels.  Five or six a week.  But these days, I’d be lucky to read one a month.  I used to read all sorts of shit, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Martin Amis.  Huxley to Stephen King.  Kurt Vonnegut to James Joyce  I was a completely indiscriminate swallower of fiction.  I even read L Ron Hubbard.  I’d read Salman Rushdie as quick as I’d pick up some garbage detective novel, and it would have to be a very poor book indeed to make me abandon it half-way through.

There was a time when I’d buy and read the entire Booker shortlist but not so much these days, I’m afraid.  Despite my recent enthusiastic review of City of Bohane, I could count on one tentacle the number of novels I read in the last month.  I just find it too hard to suspend disbelief these days, perhaps because there’s so much reality about, and yet, I can happily sit through a movie and become lost in it.

This is all a puzzle to me.  Is it age?  Is it due to the state of the world?  Is it because the internet changed the way we process the written word and my brain can no longer comfortably read pages one at a time?

Maybe it’s a combination of all three, or maybe there’s something else that I’ve missed completely.


13 thoughts on “Reading a Novel

  1. It’s the internet. I’ve spoken to several people about this. You read so much on the internet that you just don’t have the time or inclination for something the size of a novel any more.

    Besides, currently, current affairs are far stranger than fiction anyway.

  2. “Besides, currently, current affairs are far stranger than fiction anyway.”
    I was thinking the same.

    Also who needs novels when you have real people, who’s real lifes are much more fascinating than anything made up. (i.e, blogs and whatnot).
    I mean even the mundane seems fascinating sometimes when you read of a person’s perception and interpretation. How they operate, what makes them tick. Their individual quirkiness.
    All the world is a stage and you get a peek behind the curtains I guess, without the need of a novel.

  3. I’m doing the same thing, and not happy about it. I’m blaming the net, too – but in a good way as now I’m writing due to the inspiration I found out there. I used to sit down and read of an evening, now I’m on FB and my blog and everybody else’s blog…here… I started losing interest in fiction when I’d read so much that TV and film was entirely predictable, and then books started to be predictable. I want to write one, too – do you?

  4. The internet has changed the way we absorb and withhold information and also the way in which we communicate in general. Also it has given us impatience, both in our ability to sit down and give a book the time it deserves and also the time needed to properly communicate a simple message, for example, abbreviated text speak.In some ways this is considered evolution, but is it?

  5. A common phenomenon I reckon. I have done likewise.

    But I like that quote. It reads as though the man who wants a book to read hankers after any available entertainment where the book reader may be more fussy in his choice.
    I think though, it is merely a clever-clogs, smarty-pants wordplay.

  6. I’m known as a bookworm. In fact, I got on a bus once in an entirely different county, and the bus driver said “aren’t you the guy I usually see in Monaghan walking with your head in a book?”.

    And yet I have to agree – I rarely have the time to read a novel, these days. The last one I read was Pratchett’s Snuff, and even then I read it in bits and pieces over two weeks.

    Partly, I think this is because I appear to have less free time. When I “waste” a few hours reading something non-productive, or playing a game, I give out to myself for it, and avoid reading or playing anything for a while.

    Two days ago, I paid for my first electronic book. I’m a big fan of print, but I really wanted to read a certain techy book (Steve Souders “High Performance Websites”). I don’t feel guilty about buying the book, or spending time reading it, because it ties in with my work.

    This whole admission is shameful – when did I come to think that reading and playing for the sake of it was a bad thing?

    I hope I don’t end up passing it onto my kids. It would be a shame if my kids grew up to admire certain quadrupeds for their work-power, rather than admiring horses for their sleek lines when they run (to paraphrase Dickens).

    It’s past 12, and I need to sleep because I’ve work to do in the morning.

    Damnit – tomorrow’s Sunday! Hang it all, I’m off to watch a film and waste some time.

  7. I read Shatter, by Paul Robotham, lately, and it upset me in a big way. Only the 2nd time a book shook me. (The Road was the other one – had to stop and go for a walk…
    Give it a try and let me know.
    (Peters out near the end but all that goes before makes up for that).

  8. Geoff Dyer discusses the same phenomenon is his recent book of essays -‘Working The Room’ He doesn’t blame the net or anything like that, just says that in an odd way, you use up your store of disbelief as you get older, and the ‘themes’ of novels become repetitive, in the same way that movies do. Sure, when a really good one comes along (for me ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ recently fell into that bracket) I enjoy it and become entranced again like I used to, but in general a sort of jadedness has set in. (Plus I like non-fiction far more than I did when I was younger)

    Another factor is that often the writers one matures with themselves go off the boil … most authors tend to disimprove with (old) age – the only exception I can think of is Philip Roth, whose books in the 80s were mediocre at best, but then hit a purple patch with Sabbath’s Theater and the rest of his so-called American Trilogy

    Personally I think that the preponderance of reviews, plus the recurring hyperbole around what I consider to have been pretty mediocre novels also plays a role in one’s disillusionment

  9. I am still at the read anything stage. Borders bookstore closed here and my husband picked up about 50 books for me. I’ve been working through them, some better than others. Got me out of a reading rut.
    I have a child who’s competitions mean that I sit on bleacher seats for 5 + hours at a time. Some other parents use the time to jog, I get lost in a book. I smell better than they do:)

  10. I think it almost certainly has to do with becoming older, hopefully wiser too. An English Lit graduate, I used to devour books and tended more towards fiction. I’ll still pick up a novel passing through an airport occasionally, but in recent years I find myself spending more time in the History or Biography sections of bookstores, and that’s when I actually DO read. I have become an internet junkie in spite of myself and subscribe to the theory that it has changed our relationship with The Book. We flit around the net landing fleetingly on one page before another link catches our eye, incessantly speed-reading. Reading a book requires an investment on our parts – the setting aside of all other tasks and allocating some quiet time, to give something of ourselves in order to get something back. On the increasingly rare occasions when I find or make time to read now, I am never let down. Reading is one of the most pleasurable pursuits and I’ll be severely pissed at myself if I abandon it totally for the narcotic that is The Net. I don’t know about you all, but I find something very comforting about my ever expanding collection of books. Looking at them, you can trace your own development as a person somehow over the years….. and I can probably deduce that I am turning into a crotchedy old hag who has lost her powers of imagination and has become overly concerned with the real world. Someone give me a slap quick!

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