Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Confessions of an unsystematic reader


I hate to be recommended books - to be strongly recommended I read a  book often means I never get to read it.

Or, to be more accurate, I want to read what I want to read, as and when - and in the order - that I feel moved to read.


There was the famous Tarka the Otter incident when I was compelled by a school teacher to read this volume instead of my customary Biggles - I had to force myself through one page at a time, on a schedule.

When I audited courses during my MA (by thesis) in English, it was a kind of torture to follow the prescribed reading; whenever I tried to join a book club it seemed almost an intolerable imposition to have to read something that somebody else had chosen.

And it was a traumatic experience when, aged 18, I agreed to read a whole clutch of books recommended by my best friend.


Thus, I always have a stirring of sympathy about characters such as Samuel Johnson and Ralph Waldo Emerson who had similarly unsystematic habits.

I suspect that this disposition is evidence of high trait Psychoticism

and probably, therefore, indicative of the most fundamental human characteristic - and it is a marker of creativity on the one hand; and impulsiveness, wilfulness, egotism, unemployability and general recalcitrant troublesomeness on the other.



MC said...

I agree 100% about book recommendations. I'm not against them in principle, but in practice they annoy me. Reason #1 that I became interested in home schooling is that when I was young I only read during summer vacation because I could read what I wanted to and not what the teacher assigned.

I would guess that this is a common attitude among the anti-PC crowd. Cussed stubbornness combined with intellectual curiosity. I don't know enough about psychology to understand what psychopathy has to do with it (I'm pretty outgoing, which doesn't jibe with the description of psychopathy in your linked article, but there's an exception to everything.)

Wm Jas said...

I love being recommended books -- so long as there's no expectation that I actually read them! When I'm recommended a book, I may read it immediately, or I may keep it in the back of my mind and pick it up it years later -- or never -- as the spirit moves me.

What I really don't like is being given a book I don't feel particularly moved to read as a gift -- because then I feel like I have to read it, but I almost never actually manage to do so.

Assigned reading in college was always torture, and I did as little of it as I could get away with. The Aeneid, for example, is one of my favorite books of all time, and recently I've been rereading it in various translations almost every year -- but I absolutely could not force myself to slog through it when assigned to do so by a professor.

I don't fare much better with "assignments" I give myself. A few years ago I decided that an educated person really ought to have read the complete works of Shakespeare and set myself the task of doing so. I started reading through the plays in a systematic way but got virtually nothing out of the experience and quickly gave up on the project. When I went back to my usual method of just reading whatever I felt like (including the occasional Shakespeare when so moved), the results were much better.

MC said...

I mean psychoticism, not psychopathy, of course. Shows how much I know.

Kristor said...

Oh, me too. I even have trouble taking up books that have been recommended to me *by myself.*

Ariston said...

I have the same problem, but a lot of it is that I just don't trust most persons to recommend anything, even though I do ask from time to time. I've also always been a voracious but fickle reader; I read quickly, but I'll read a 300pp book in 50pp chunks over the course of a year.

Oh well, it's certainly not the first time I've been accused of psychopathy.

Karl said...

I seem to remember one of Tolkien's collected letters in which he expresses horror at hearing that young children are taking up the Lord of the Rings before they are mature enough. But then he says something to the effect that it's no use trying to influence what a child, or anybody else, will read. This can only be left to Fate (or destiny, or Providence).