Friday 17 January 2020

Buried beneath the TBR pile by Tracy Darnton

New year, new resolutions. Time to ring the changes. 

I have books to review, set texts to read for my weekly lit course, friends’ books, Christmas presents received, books by other YA authors I really want to read etc etc. All in all, I’m frankly overwhelmed by my tottering TBR (To Be Read) pile - which is weird because reading is meant to be a pleasure. I became a writer because I’m a lifelong reader with a major bookshop habit. And yet I’m thinking about scheduling reading like a kind of regular date night. How did my reading pleasure go from treat to chore? How can I change that and how do other people manage to read so much?

OK, first off I’m going to blame Brexit. Newspapers, social media, new addiction to the BBC Parliament channel and general existential political despair have definitely drained my time and mental energy in 2019.

Next, I blame writing itself. Writing takes up a huge amount of time and when I’m writing or fully immersed in editing I don’t want the distraction of someone else’s YA style.

Too many books. Maybe if I only read, say, Scandi-noir by only one author, I’d have a better shot at at reading everything BUT I have an eclectic taste in books. I read adult fiction and children’s and YA. I have classics to read for a course. And I like non-fiction; I’m interested in memory and psychology and still carry a torch for my old profession of the law. I’ve been researching prepping and survival skills – and how to rebuild the world. (That’s a lot of pages!)

And let's be honest, it can be hard in family life to find the time for an essentially ‘selfish’ activity. Other hobbies can have some tangible benefit for everyone: baking, knitting etc produce a product. But reading…

I don’t do as much waiting around for pick from kids’ sport matches or activities as I used to. That was always a prime time to catch up on reading. Inconveniently, I get horribly travel sick so I can never read in the car, seldom on a train even. Instead I stare dead ahead, crunching extra-strong peppermints.

And is it just me or is it harder to concentrate and switch off from everything else as you get older? 

So what I can do?

I asked one of the extremely well-read booksellers at my local independent bookseller Mr B’s. She reads for approx. two hours per day.  TWO HOURS! How on earth does she manage to do all the reading around working and family life? Well, her tip was not to watch TV at all – which could be a problem as we’ve just signed up for Netflix and I’m hooked on a German series callled Dark (a sort of time-travelling Stranger Things) which I justify as it’s very ‘YA’. And I do all my ironing in front of the TV.

What about targets? Some people love to use target tracking lists from Goodreads or similar. Or just keep a list in a notebook. I don’t think that would work for me – just another thing to fail at.

But I’m going to get back in the habit of reading more. Bottom line is I know I enjoy it. It gives me empathy/insight/something else to talk about. It hones my own writing craft – seeing how an author pulls off something amazing - or how they fall short. It means I can discuss books with my friends on the course I do every week. And how can I expect other family members to read if I don’t model it as a priority and a pleasure?

So …

I’m going to split my TBR pile into little piles so it’s not so overwhelming. (Simple but effective)

I’m not going to keep a list of books I read.

I’m not going to stop buying books. I love it.

I’m going to get a bigger bookshelf (or two).

I’ll report back this time next year.

(After posting this, I realised that I am not alone in trying to make more time for reading for pleasure – have a look at the very recent posts by Anne Rooney, Vanessa Harbour and Dawn Finch for some excellent advice and thoughts.)

Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies. Her next novel, The Rules, is based on her short story in I'll Be Home for Christmas. She is slowly disappearing under the size of her TBR piles.


Chris Vick said...

I changed my 'main' reading time from last thing at night, to first thing in the AM (especially if I can then write afterwards). It's changed my reading pattern and focus. Before I was struggling last thing at night, to read before I slept, even though that is a habit of decades; my mind was simply swimming too much darn 'stuff.' But now, in the morning , especially at weekends... aah the simple pleasure of book and coffee in bed :)

Ann Turnbull said...

Tracy, get a cat. It will sit on you when you sit down to read and you will be unable to move for hours... Seriously though, this is a problem. Not for me, because I'm not writing much at the moment. But having more time for reading now has reminded me of what a huge pleasure it is. I used to do tons of historical research reading, but found I simply had to stop every so often and read a novel. Less TV certainly helps, but TV is a more sociable evening activity than reading. I don't know the answer. But reading is bliss - and essential for writers.

Tracy Darnton said...

Thanks for suggestions Chris and Ann. I'm trying a few ideas out...