Been deliberately carving out a bit more time through the week to read; which is to say I’ve been deliberately not watching television. The algorithms have noticed, too. I keep getting emails from Netflix and Amazon, half-threatening half-wheedling, wanting to know when I’m going to get back to the series I started watching with them. In good time, algorithms, in good time.
In the same way I try not to hit the sauce too hard on a school night, I thought it might be worth declaring that from Monday to Thursday I was a reading guy, not a streaming guy. I wouldn’t normally get to watch a lot of teev on Tuesday or Thursday nights anyway because I’m at jujitsu in the evening. I don’t get back from that until at least 9:30 and I’m an old man. I like to be in bed by 10.
So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been opening my Kindle of an evening. Sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for just 20 or 30 minutes. It has made a big difference. Sustained reading for a couple of days in a row reminds me what it’s like to really sink into an imagined world. At the moment I’m reading John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and there are some long passages in that book that require close attention. The prose is beautifully constructed, of course, but it’s also quite dense and sometimes very demanding of your attention.
And of course the other thing demanding of your attention is the complex, twisting plot lines. More than once I’ve found myself going back and reading whole sentences, whole paragraphs and occasionally even whole pages to try and fit everything into context. It’s not the kind of reading you do scrolling through Twitter or Facebook. You don’t get the continual drip feed of dopamine hits, but you do get something just as powerful, and probably better for you.
Neurologically speaking, I have no idea what the hell that is. But I do know that I feel a lot better, I sleep a lot deeper, and the following day I seem to work for longer and with greater ease than when I spend the previous evening faffing around on social media, or trying to decide which of 600 TV shows I’ll watch on one of the half dozen streamers I subscribe to.
I am enjoying Le Carre so much that it will be tempting to just turn around and go back to the start as soon as I finish my first read through this book. And I do intend to go back through it at some stage, marking it up and breaking it down to try and work out how he performed some of his magic tricks on the page. But I might force myself to move on to the second book in the ‘Karla’ sequence of Smiley novels. And then, the third. Having rediscovered my appetite for long form reading, I reckon I might as well indulge it. I’ve got a massive stack of shame in my unread pile. It would be nice to get through some of it over the next couple of months.
Thanks for the motivational pep talk! I've accumulated more than a linear meter of as-yet unread novels on my bookshelves. I like buying books, but I haven't managed to kick the screen habit since it formed. Perhaps if JB's doing it, I can too...
Even retired my bedside lamp, so that's something I'll have to fix (screens being self-illuminating, it hasn't stopped night reading: just the night-reading of books).
Le Carre's dense and twisted plot lines can be a nightmare (pardon the pun) sleep-wise. Trying to remember who's who and what is, and isn't, important to the Head-Shed is frustrating. I try to keep to his early stuff. TTSS is a classic, as is The Little Drummer Girl and Smiley's People. It's the decision-makers' indifference to the fate of the protagonists and NPCs that is most heart-breaking. It always reminds me of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FHpOLiobmA
If you want some Le Carre lite, try Graham Greene's political novels. It's like coming off the freeway on your bike shifting down gears steadily until the adrenaline starts to wear off and you strip off all the armour and just want to have a cup of warm milk and go to bed.
The sleep thing is spot on. I read every night, and have just finished struggling through a History of Japan, a subject I want to know more about, but what a punish that was. I then kicked off on the latest Billy Connolly offering, Windswept & Interesting. Not only a much easier read - I can hear him reading it in my head, but it clicked that my recent poor sleep had reversed to a more normal pattern…I have resolved to take the harder reads requiring more attention away from bedtime and use the perceived ‘easier’ reads to relax before I conk out. We’ll see…
Cool to hear you have been reading more, this no doubt will result in recommendations to add to my own almost ridiculously long to_be_read_pile (my Goodreads app lists 505 books). In the last couple of months, my work announced a restructure so I began stress reading as a coping/avoidance mechanism. While my continued employment was confirmed the routine left me with a good habit of reading a couple of hours a day.
Been so long since i've sat down with a book. It's a bit disheartening really. Although i do have the audible account cranking - doing a mindless chore outside like weeding or moving logs around is so much better listening to a good book. Although those gold nuggets of a good story matched with an exceptional narrator can be hard to find. I usually have to have the speed set to 1.3 or in some dire circumstances 1.5. But the last couple of books i listened to were excellent - Evan Winter's The Burning series. Read by a guy called Prentice Onayemi. Different from the usual fantasy because it is based in an African facsimile world rather than the usual whitey with white elves and white dwarfs. But the narrating is top notch, one of the best i've come across.
I took your advice and read rather than watch TV last night and it was a real joy to just dive into and focus on the text rather than fret about choosing the one episode of something to watch on the eleventy billion streaming services I seem to have acquired. Thank you.
That’s interesting about the improved sleep. Just yesterday ms insomniac was told she should read before bed rather than end up asleep in front of the tv, in order to improve her sleep hygiene. Of course, she won’t be reading. I’ll be reading and she’ll be listening and drift off, so I will probably end up reading it twice. We’re starting with The Turn of the Screw.
While waiting for your next batch of tomes to appear, I have been going through my Len Deighton collection and enjoying it as much as I did 40 years ago.
I read his entire catalogue during the first great lockdown of 2020, I envy you right now.
Next one for me on the kindle then. Thanks for the rec
Have you read "When the Sparrow Falls" by Neil Sharpson. It's not Le Carre but it takes me straight back to that era. The writing is pretty good too.