I've set myself the Doctorow challenge, which is to read his latest book, The March, in six evenings. Not so very difficult, you might think, but the fact is, I've realised that although once an avid reader, I never read books any more. The thing is, when I come home in the evening, I tend to potter, spend time on my other hobbies or watch telly or DVDs. I read just before I turn the light off, but it tends to be mags, like the New Yorker or the Monthly (the others I read in the supermarket check-out). Even then, a 10,000 word article can seem a bit taxing. I do read whole books on holidays or while in transit for work, but I tend to think I just won't have time to fit them in my daily life otherwise (I don't catch public transport, you see).
When I was a child, I read, read, read in the evenings, under the desk at school, on the bus, under the covers at night, etc. I prided myself on being able to read at a rate of four pages a minute. I read several books a week. My father called me a 'book-gobbler' and said I wouldn't enjoy things properly. When I did my PhD, I read Australian novels for an hour every morning when I got up (those the days!) to become fully conversant with its canons. Thanks to the existence of the Rowden White Library at Melb Uni, I rarely bought any of these. Overall, I suspect I read -- and bought -- more theory than fiction in the process of thesis-doing.
At the moment, I have a bedside table full of unread books -- mainly fiction, some non-fiction, most of them bought with book vouchers on interstate trips -- book vouchers now being the perfect gift for someone who lives in Alice. (I should add that one of these includes a Patrick White, an Xmas present from two years ago; you others are welcome to your White challenge.) I realised that when I was reading fiction, it tended to be the books for our local book club, and then I was reading them under pressure at the last moment. I thought, if I'm able to read books other people want me to read under pressure, then I should be able to read the books I want to read under pressure.
So I set myself the Doctorow challenge of reading 60 pages of his 364 page tome a night. So far, it's taken only thirty minutes out of each evening. Did I feel like a pressured book-gobbler? Yes, it took me a little while to settle down the first night and not to feel as though the stop-watch was ticking. But I have enjoyed it and found The March surprisingly easy to read (and oddly reminiscent in tone and content to The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers. So I feel like I'm in a familiar world -- not that I'm suggesting either are derivative of the other).
I note that Jude, of long-toothed hinterlander fame, recently took time out from the blogosphere to catch up on her reading. I suspect that blogging is one of those pursuits (there are others) that has eroded the amount of time I spend with the printed page. I may just be revealing my bad habits and other, oddly swotty moments here. But if someone like me isn't reading books, then I wonder who, if anyone, is?