Hello and Happy New Year!
This year, Vel and I decided to do things a bit differently. We’re introducing additional articles, which will be book-related, but they will be more of a social commentary rather than discussing a particular publication. So, if you expected а book review, you will have to wait for the next post.
I wanted to share a few thoughts on a phenomenon, which has become more prominent in the past few years. It has affected both the way literature has been produced, published and distributed, on one side, and how written content is being consumed, on the other. I’m talking about the modern mass reader.
It may seem hypocritical of a book review blog to be discussing mass reading in an unfavourable light, but every story has at least two sides. After all, there can’t be positives without the negatives.
People read for a variety of reasons – learning, self-help, inspiration, escape from reality, to kill time, to tackle a new language, etc. There is nothing wrong with prolific reading. I get it. I do it myself, to an extent. But over the years I’ve seen the rise of the vocal mass reader, who devours book after book and spares no time to share their opinion. Some even get to read a book every other day, managing to go through more than 100 books per year.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against speed reading. Actually, more power to you for finding the time and being able to support your pastime so consistently. Nevertheless, this begs the question: has reading become one of those activities you can binge? Is it possible to process such an amount of information and keep devouring more and more?
I think it really depends on the main reason you choose to read. If you are actively trying to just pass the time by reading, while doing something else. For example, some of my friends read at work, while waiting for the next customer to show up. Most of the titles they read can be classed as young adult literature, which has become very popular in the last few decades. Additionally, since such novels are increasingly made to be adapted to television, the plots, the characters and the universes they explore are molding into this cookie-cutter version, which guarantees book-to-film adaptation. This makes the content found in such books very quick and easy to digest.
But if you’re reading in order to develop your skills, learn something about yourself or keep yourself informed about how the world works, consuming copious amounts of information can lead to a brain overload. I’ve fallen into this trap, too. Because the more you learn, the more you feel like you know nothing. And the vicious cycle of constant learning without practice starts. Some do it to catch up with their peers, others do it so that they can share what they read on social media in an attempt to seem well-read and ahead of their friends.
Going through so much content for the sole purpose of having it consumed, so that you can regurgitate it immediately in the form of a post, is mind-boggling to me. It’s as if social media habits intertwine with our reading habits and the need to like, share and comment overpowers the need for introspection. Not only does the question of quantity over quality come up, but also the question of what does one do with the content one devours. This is one of the many reasons why the list of books on our blog is limited to 12 per year.
It kills the calm and serene atmosphere that comes with reading and it turns into a competition with oneself to read as much as possible as fast as possible. Having yearly reading challenges doesn’t help in this regard, more so if one tries to compare one’s reading habits to those of one’s friends. That’s because people usually are interested in different types of content, which can come in a variety of ways – large volumes, small periodicals or graphic novels. So you can never truly compare your reading list or your reading habits with someone else’s.
I, too, am guilty of binge-watching tv series once in a blue moon. But after it happens, I feel the slight drowsiness of “where has the time gone” or “there were so many plot twists and characters to follow I can’t even make heads or tails of it”. In the end, my brain gets overstimulated with nonessential information, regardless of how much I liked the series.
I think reading books in the same manner is akin to overeating, because one consumes without having the time to digest what’s being read. Of course, not every book is a philosophical treatise, but generally one reads to enrich oneself. Be it adventures, romances, puzzles, mysteries, philosophical and science questions, every book gives us something to ponder over.
That’s why I always try to analyse not only why a certain novel has had an impact on me, but also how it pertains to society or my personal life, and what it says about me. I rarely share all of my findings, but I count them as building blocks to my personal development.
Moreover, reducing the time to think over the book’s subject matter is disrespectful of both the author and the text itself. You may have come across the Japanese term tsundoku, which means acquiring and hoarding stacks of books without reading them. This probably rings true for many of us. But I think there is another level to tsundoku – information hoarding.
In an age, when there’s lots of information available on a myriad of different topics, hoarding information without putting it to good practical use is ludicrous. Do you remember being in school and thinking “Why do I have to study this? I won’t be using it after I graduate? I can always check insert source for this information”. Been there, done that myself. While it’s important to learn, it’s also important how you gather, how you store and what you do with your acquired knowledge.
In essence, it’s like having lots of money in the bank account but having no idea on how to manage one’s resources so that you get the most value out of your money. Another very unfortunate phenomenon, which has become increasingly common in Bulgaria, is people throwing away or sending away books for recycling to save up space at home without even considering the idea of donating the unnecessary books to a local library.
In the end, many people either let their treasure pile over time or spend it all without truly appreciating its worth. When it comes to information, I’ve seen people hoarding books and not reading them; giving their books away without sifting at least once through them to see whether they can find something of interest; or just stacking books for vanity’s sake. If this comparison doesn’t quite hit home, think about all of your web browser bookmarks and how many of them you are using on a regular basis. Being practical is not a bad trait, but before chucking away what you’ve got, consider what you already have and how you go about acquiring things.
Opinions, Opinions, Opinions
This is something I frequently discuss with Vel as both of us always wish to have more time to read, but either daily life gets in the way or we’ve concentrated on other projects. That’s why, much like any other consumer of things on the market, including the literary one, we often count on book reviews to decide whether a certain book is something we would be interested in.
In fact I decided to write this article after combing through the Goodreads reviews under Lavondyss (don’t worry, my part of the review had already been written before reading other people’s opinions). The most recent reviews were very scathing and dismissive due to there not being many female characters, the way women were represented or some of the themes discussed.
It’s no secret that cancel culture has been a prevalent force in the last two or three years. But it has gotten way out of proportions. I see many people are easily dismissing other people’s work because of something the author had said/written or because their work is not in line with the readers’ opinions, even if the book was published over three decades ago.
The problem is there are readers, who are so obsessed with consuming “forward-thinking” content that sometimes they forget to take into account the historical background, the prevalent social problems at the time or they way people thought about certain issues then.
A few years ago I read the travel journey of a very famous Bulgarian author of his first official month-long visit in China in the 1980s (for those interested, it’s Valeri Petrov’s A Book About China). It was an interesting read, not only because of the glimpse you get of a China, newly-opened to the rest of the world, but because it was written by a Bulgarian author, living under a similar political regime. Some of my friends couldn’t understand my enthusiasm. Others couldn’t get past the comrade-calling or the bits, which focused on all the technical information regarding scientific discoveries. But they forget that these were different times. People, too, were different.
Just because the world is not the same as it was a long time ago, and some might argue it should change for the better in the years to come, does not negate or dismiss how people perceived the world ten or a hundred years ago. After all, one can read a publication and not agree with the opinions expressed in it. One can also like a piece of writing without necessarily liking the author. Problem-solving starts with discussing opposing views. That is why we have recorded history and books to learn from in the first place.
The Publishing Industry
Likewise, the reading habits of the mass devourer, fandoms and cancel culture have affected the publishing industry. Many books are not being promoted, unless there is a certain amount of drama surrounding the content of the book, the author or the publishing process.
What’s more, books in the young adult literature realm are now being filled with meaningless plot twists and unnecessarily divided into trilogies. This usually happens either because publishing houses have a marketing plan, which will ensure readers will purchase more copies, or because there is already a plan in the works for a film deal and merchandise.
The literature world is thriving and developing. It wouldn’t have survived if it didn’t. And now more than ever there is content for every type of reader. Unfortunately, I’ve learned to take the publication of new books by authors I like with a grain of salt. A title which immediately comes to mind is Stephen King and Owen Kings’s Sleeping Beauties. Right from the first few pages you are hit with a looong list of characters, which appear in the story at different points in time. The rest of the book felt more like reading a TV series script rather than a novel.
I’ve had a similar experience with The Nevernight Chronicle trilogy by Jay Kristoff. I loved the first two books. It is a coming of age story of a young girl, whose sole mission in life is to avenge the death of her parents and young brother. As a result, she enrols into a school for assassins and learns more about her secret powers. I remember I couldn’t wait to get to the final book and see how the story ended.
I finally got to reading it around Christmas as a small holiday treat for myself. But it didn’t meet the high expectations the first two books had set as a standard. The story was just as fast-paced and interesting. But every 20-30 pages there was а sex scene. I know that sex sells, but compared to a total of 3-4 sex scenes in the previous two parts, I kept rolling my eyes every time the mood in the third book was set just right and the characters had nothing better to do than being intimate with each other. These scenes did not add anything to the story itself or to the development of the characters. They were there for edginess’ sake.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you’ve managed to read through the entire post, I would like to thank you for hearing me out. Albeit all the negative views expressed in this post, it’s purpose is quite the opposite. This article is about being more conscious of what you consume and how it shapes other aspects of your life, including your reading habits. If you haven’t decided on your reading goals this year, here are some tips I can share.
One of the few changes I made to my book-purchasing habits since starting the blog with Vel is to be more selective of what I buy and what I keep. As a result, I’ve decided to keep physical copies only of academic literature, which I cannot find in electronic format, as well as collector’s editions of fictional novels I love to re-read. Having only reference literature at hand not only saves space (who likes to wipe dust anyway), paper and money, but it also keeps me focused on my work.
Furthermore, create reading challenges which work for you and the type of literature you enjoy. Don’t feel guilty or mad at yourself for not completing what you’ve set at the beginning of the year. Reading a certain amount of novels or pages doesn’t really speak for the quality of the literature being consumed. Rather, focus on how your reading has enriched you.
Finally, don’t let trends dictate what you should and shouldn’t like in terms of literature because you may end up dismissing great books before you even consider reading them. Be critical of book reviews (even our own!).
Enjoy your reading time!