The Failure to Commit: Did You Finish Your Summer Reading Project?

“Reading Woman” by Matthieu Wiegman

I have a spotty record of finishing summer reading projects. Yes, I loved The Tale of Genji in 2016, but this past summer of SF I barely cracked open an SF book.  I preferred Jo Walton’s brilliant collection of essays, An Informal History of the Hugos:  A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000, to two actual SF novels, Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer and John Crowley’s Aegypt.

Does this mean I cannot commit?

It is a bloggers’ tradition to commit to whimsical summer reading. This summer there was the Full Monte, a cleverly-named discussion of The Count of Monte Cristo; the Classics Club, The Books of Summer, All August All Virago, and Women in Translation Month.  Coming up is Victober, a reading of Victorian novels in October, sponsored by various vloggers at BookTube and a Goodreads group.  Since every month is Victober here, I will inadvertently participate.

Such bookish fun is a little too quixotic.  I prefer book clubs where all read the same book. (And so The Full Monte gets my vote of approval.) My husband and I, in our scruffier years, used to walk to the lake (where we never swam, because of dead fish and pollution) and read Betty MacDonald’s humor books aloud under a tree. More recently, we had a lunchtime Joseph Conrad book club. This year we’re reading an interminable Solzhenitsyn book.

Everything is undoubtedly more fun on the internet, though you might have to be a Millennial or of the “I” gen to enjoy it.  Take a look at the adorable book site, Bookish, which sponsors a Bookish Bingo game for its September Reading Challenge.  I would never do this; still, kudos to “red or orange cover.” And, let’s face it, I’ll have a Bingo without playing.

Why am I wary about cute internet reading projects?  Well, it is like interplanetary butterflies humming and hovering over different genera of flowers but never hovering or humming over the same flowers. (Is that what I mean?  And is it SF?)

I recently read David Ulin’s brilliant book, The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time. (And I wrote about it here).  He discusses the internet interruptions that impede our reading books.  The internet actually rewires our brains so we need constant fixes.  In 2008, Ulin became so addicted to newsfeeds about the election that he could barely get off the net–and he could not get lost in a book.

Many critics have written about the triviality of social media.  Ulin quotes David Denby’s Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation. Denby writes, “The trouble with today’s snarky pipsqueaks who break off a sentence or two, or who write a couple of mean paragraphs, is that they don’t go far enough; they don’t have a coherent view of life.”

Ulin does not entirely agree with Denby’s critique, but he explains the gist of it:

What Denby is lamenting is the lack of a larger framework, the absence of any wider point of view.  That’s the problem with the culture of the comments thread, which, for all its pretense toward open conversation, adds up to little more than a collection of parallel monologues.

It is difficult to conduct a meaningful conversation in parallel monologues. Certainly I do not have the facility.  What can a couple of lines in a comment possibly signify?  We try, but I succeed only as a cheerleader.

So let’s recover our hippie reading life, the best response to a noisy, muddled world.

To quote Joni Mitchell:

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden