Lately I’ve been thinking about what’s missing from the way I read. I read a lot, you see, but I’ve noticed a definite disparity between not only the kind of books I tend to read, but what I take from them. I don’t really learn. I read for pure pleasure on the whole and it’s taken me a long time to begin to start being critical in a workmanlike fashion of whatever it is I’m reading, which I am by no means consistent with. Not only this, but I don’t tend to read non-fiction at all, which makes me very unusual among my writerly friends from what I have observed. It doesn’t aid me much, either. If you’re not filling your mind with new knowledge, how then can you foment new ideas?
The slow realisation that the way I read (or don’t, as the case may be for non-fiction) is stifling my creativity made me then begin to wonder why I don’t read the way everyone I know seems to read––to expand my mind and knowledge. Why it is I read books just to be entertained? To the point in fact where, for some years, all I read was pure fluff. Brain candy. I stopped reading all my SF and literary writers, stopped looking for challenging reads, and began to read only books that made me laugh and allowed me to disappear for a while. And, consequently, to probably no one’s surprise but my own, my brain began to wilt.
At the beginning of this year, noticing how much my recollection of vocabulary was shrinking, I decided to challenge myself to read more SF and literary works. Now, this aim was somewhat nixed by the incredible events leading to my finding representation in my lovely agent, Jen Udden, but I did manage it for three months, and I have started it up again recently. Do you know what I noticed? I find it very hard to get into a more complex book these days, it takes discipline. It never used to. Once I’m in by three or four chapters though, I get sucked in and race to the finish. So I can do it, moreover I have found that I can do it critically as well (as I mentioned above). With fiction at least.
But I want to face off against my leery stance toward non-fiction. I want to conquer that particular obstacle preventing me from being able to immerse in these works and gain from them the self-same knowledge and expansion that I see my fellow writers, and non-writers, too, benefiting from. So what is my problem? The answer came as somewhat of a shock. Really. I was horrified. The truth I discovered is that I am not curious. I have never been curious. From a very young age I lost interest in learning. Via a series of events that are not really important now, but were frankly devastating to me as a young person, and as a learner, I lost the impetus to find out new things. I lost the will to understand. All I wanted to do was hide.
That then is what I have done. For decades I have used books as a way to hide from the world. I escape into other worlds and thoroughly immerse myself, forgetting all that is around me until I resurface. I do not seek to take anything from them; I merely use them as a means to shut out that which I do not wish to see. They are my shield. It’s pure luck in that case that I’ve read as widely as I have, that I’ve found sanctuary from the world in such a diversity of books, or else I think I’d have been far worse off than I am. Because it will only take a shift of perspective, rather than a huge leap of cognition, to change the way I approach books, approach reading.
And that’s what I intend to do. I have done with hiding. I have done with this lack of learning. I want to open my mind, to expand my knowledge. I want to become curious. Actively curious. I want to go out and hunt knowledge with the same fervour that I used to hunt escape. That, in part, is my challenge to myself for the year ahead. There are more of them, also word related, but that is the most important one to my mind. When you realise that the way you’re approaching something is broken, and holding you back, the only reasonable thing to do is to value yourself, and your mind, enough to fix it.
That counts for more than just curiosity. It is a life lesson. One I have learned to ignore at my peril.