One of the over-simplistic pop-philosophy-catchphrases I’ve come to despise is: ‘If you really want to do it, you’ll make the time.’ Maybe these faux-Foucaults* have limited things they want to do; maybe I over-committ myself; maybe there are too many things I want; maybe life-statements like the above are pure tosh.
Here’s a secret: most people who work in book publishing can’t find the time to read books. Honestly. It’s the sad but goddamn truth.
One of the reasons I started this blogging escapade was to ‘make’ myself find the time to read more. Other tactics include spending random Sundays in bed to catch up on some fiction-fun, blocking out diary pages in large harsh capitals to prevent me from sneaking in any other activity on a particular day, slipping off to a cafe which serves less-than-excellent coffee for some lunch hour ‘book time’ away from office gossip, and turning down a lift to catch the train to give me 30 minutes of page turning… and still, still, I don’t get to read for pleasure as much as I would like. And I’m a fairly high-functioning human being with unnatural reserves of stamina.
When the thing you love becomes the thing you do it can be hard for the practice of it to not feel like your job—even if you can find the time. Like all relationships, you have to work hard to keep the love alive. And still you walk a fine line between finding time for things you love and finding that those things then feel like a chore. So I read a lot for work, and reading for pleasure can remind me of work, and then trying to force myself to read for pleasure (because I know if I just get started I. Will. Really. Enjoy. It.) starts making it feel like an obligation and I’m trapped in a vicious work-is reading-is pleasure-is reading-is work cycle. I love my job, but still…
And then, of course, there is the guilt. Those lovely stories and bound paper packages lying about all unloved and unread, and the self-abuse you put yourself under because if you really wanted to do it you would make the time, and you end up shaming yourself if on a sunny Sunday your reading plans were waylaid by brunch and the new season of Supernatural on DVD…
When a serious relationship I was in ended about 18 months ago, I decided two things (well, I decided a few things but these two are relevant to this conversation): I was not going to live with regret, and I was going to start being kinder to me. Beating oneself up because you can’t seem to make the time to do what you claim is important to you, is neither productive nor good for the soul. Life is busy, obligations are many and free time is scarce. I’d rather celebrate when I do get the chance to read a glorious book, than castigate myself for taking a year to get around to it. I am one of those folk who try to squeeze much too much into their lives—and I suffer from a slight case of workaholism to boot—so even though I can’t always make the time to do all of those things I really want to be doing, it can be oh-so-much-more pleasurable when I do manage to get around to it. And I’ll have more to talk about at parties than that one measly hobby all those pop-philosophers tend to bore us with when their time comes to converse with their fellow humans. They can take that in their cereal-box-adage pipe and smoke it.
* I know Foucault philosophised on social institutions, rather than social habits, I just liked the alliteration.