6 April 2008

Too Fond of Books, and It Has Turned Her Brain

While I can't remember in detail much of the content, I know that the part of my Cambridge interview that required some thinking (as opposed to thinking on the spot and claiming to be an avid reader of New Scientist) involved me discussing the difference between films and books in an intelligent manner (partly in French, partly in English). I guess I must have done so given that I got my place, even though it proved to be totally irrelevant given that I only took one literature paper in my entire degree

As part of my self-proclaimed attempts to read (or to have read) as many books and watch as many films as possible, I've started keeping a record of everything I've read and seen in 2008 on a wiki I created on PBwiki (I originally created it to keep a record of books to read, films to see and things to buy but then never got round to updating it often enough. It occurred to me that I haven't actually read that many books so far this year - certainly fewer than I have seen films.

The main cause of this is best analogised with queues at the supermarket. Sometimes, you only want to buy a few items but have to just pick one of the lines and wait in it. Of course, you'll try to pick the one you think will move fastest but then you can't tell if one of the people ahead of you in the queue is going to have a problem with their credit card or will feel the need to get into a debate with the cashier meaning that you are unfairly held up while other people, who joined their queue after you, glide through into the car park (this also seems to happen a lot at US Immigration). Some shops, like, Whole Foods in NYC (which I am citing because I read an article in the NY Times when I was there last June proclaiming the wonders of this alternative) have a single line, which you join and then are directed to the first available checkout when it is your turn. It's a very English system. Very fair.

Often, I have a whole pile of books waiting to be read. Some of them I actually want to read and others I just want to have read. However, they must be read in order of purchase, unless a new book is so exciting and interesting that I can't possibly wait. Usually, though, I read in order, and sometimes, I'll just get stuck on one that's not quite interesting enough to trump surfing the internet but not quite dire enough to abandon altogether (this happens rarely with me). This year, a lot of my books have been non-fiction, which means they aren't so easy to just dive into when you have a spare ten minutes. I got stuck on The Black Swan for ages, for example, because even though it's quite interesting, it's also quite hardcore and quite hard work and so it was easy to leave it festering on my bed. The same was true with What's Good Are the Arts?, which I finally finished this afternoon (there was only one chapter on neuro-art and a couple on literacha - the rest went over my head). And yes, when this happens I could just abandon the book or start reading another, more digestible book but that doesn't seem to obey my laws of reading.

I'm even less likely to leave the cinema in the middle of a film; in fact, I can't think of a single example where I would do this, no matter how little I am enjoying the film. Tyler Cowen would say this is irrational - that the price of the cinema ticket is a sunk cost and if you aren't enjoying it, you shouldn't leave. I beg to differ - maybe this is just because my taste in films is less discerning than his or that even if I am not enjoying a film (and it would probably take me at least half of the film to determine this), I may at least get some use out of it by staying. Besides, it's only another hour of my life. Books, on the other hand, can take hours (or weeks if you read them a bit at a time) and can also steal potential reading time away from other more deserving books. It still feels a bit defeatist to just give up on them, though, and my stubbornness usually forces me to plough on, no matter how frustrated or miserable they make me.

Somehow, I've managed to see 18 films this year, 13 of which were at the cinema. Given that the year is only three months old, I think I've done well to satisfy the conditions of my counter-resolution. I've only read 12 books, though, and 2.5 of those (remainder of What Good Are the Arts?, 1066 and All That and, because I was in dire need of fiction after five straight non-fiction books, Joanna Trollope's Other People's Children, which was lying around the house and which was surprisingly well written and with a bunch of decent (if not nice) characters with whom I variously identified with on some levels) were today. I now have five unread books on my shelf (well, four if you don't count the still-unread Against the Day by Pynchon but my wrists don't yet feel up to that), three fiction, two non-.

We'll see how well I do but there are a number of other books on my wishlist, so I'll have to try to to a better job of reading more. I also voluntarily turned off my computer at twelve today, just before I went out, and although I got back at six, I only turned the laptop back on at nine so I could concentrate on my reading. I actually quite enjoyed it. Maybe I should have some non-computer time for often...

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