People like me have such a small capacity to read fiction for long periods and I don’t think that’s a problem, writes Jim Duffy.
This summer there will be sun beds full of human beings soaked in sun-tan oil at poolsides all over the Med. The annual holiday of a week or two will see families, couples and singletons flock to warmer climates.
Swimming shorts, bikinis and swimming outfits will have been purchased along with a few new outfits for the evenings. It’s a time-honoured tradition that boosts the economies of Southern Europe, while creating “chillax” time for us all. But there is one thing that is never in my luggage. One item that I truly struggle with.
Yes, despite relaxing on holiday, I still find it hugely difficult to read a book.
A good paperback is still art and part of the annual holiday for many. And, notwithstanding a trip to warmer climates, a good read is still very much a daily routine for many of us.
However, I cannot count myself part of this club. Not that I feel I am missing out on anything. I don’t suffer from “paperback” envy or feel empty inside because I cannot sit in an armchair for two hours indulging in a good read.
But, am I normal?
Coming from a family with a short attention span has not helped in any reading endeavours. I don’t recall my parents or my siblings visiting the local library every week.
I do recall when I was about 10 years old that we had very good, modern library in the little town of Kilbirnie in Ayrshire.
But, on the few occasions I was there, I was more interested in books that related to school work. I didn’t see the point of reading just for the sake of reading or pleasure, when I could learn something that might help me in a test at school. I didn’t get any real encouragement from my parents either as they did not indulge in much reading. It was either the TV or my dad’s new Betamax video machine with some dodgy Bruce Lee movies.
Then at university, we had great libraries. Granted 90 per cent of the books there were course-related. But, there was a fairly vibrant fiction section that many took advantage of.
On reflection, I did actually spend more time in this library. Not because I wanted to do much studying. No, it had a great LP record section with four fabulous record players and headphones. So, I would try to burst my ear drums with U2’s Live Under a Blood Red Sky album, while my classmates chose their weekend reads. So, no real improvement in my literary appetites here then.
Later on in life, my ability to sit and read was tested every now and then. Someone would rant about a great book they had read or I’d see a book advertised that looked good.
However, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I frequented the local bookshop to purchase a best seller. The problem was and is, I find it hard to focus and concentrate on a book. And it is not improving with age.
Mind you, the dawn of the age of technology means I can actually read for a hour. But the level of intellect required resembles that of a budgie. I can and do pick up my iPad Pro and skim-read a whole load of tripe.
I will consume all the newspapers from the super trashy to the mildly intellectual.
As I swipe up and down, I can read all about Katie Price and how she avoided bankruptcy, who she is dating this week and whether or not she is going to adopt a child from Africa. I can get ten different opinions on whether Liam Neeson is a racist, while I find out where the Love Island crew are all holidaying this year.
Add in the the saga of Gemma Collins and did she fake her Dancing on Ice fall and I’ve spent 30 minutes “reading”. I’ll throw in some political analysis, some Scottish news and a salting of Trump’s State of the Union address and a whole hour has gone by. I’ve had enough browsing now.
And herein lays the on-going problem for many of us because it seems I’m not alone. Never before in history has so much media been thrown at us. And we like to consume it. But it can be exhausting with no real substance, albeit our current affairs prowess looks good at the local pub quiz.
And for people like me with such a small capacity to read fiction for long periods, this only exacerbates the problem.
But, is it actually a problem?
Will I really get more joy from delving into an airport bestseller? You know, I’m not so sure.
If I want to find out what Jack Reacher is up to, I can power up my Netflix and watch good old Tom Cruise act out the part. Now that’s worth 90 minutes of my valuable time. And as for missing out on Harty Potter novels, I don’t feel deprived at all. Many books now feature on my Netflix, so I can fill my boots and have a two-hour binge. Job’s a good un.
No, as I sit by a poolside this summer, watching armies of people ‘relax’ with a good novel, I won’t feel any pangs of guilt or any feelings that I am not being fulfilled.
I’ll leave it to them to escape into their own wee world as I browse a few comment columns on my iPad.