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The Sarmatian Protopope

his desires inscrutable but surely base

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Getting Back Into Reading (Books)
fast & furious
I was talking with @zaboots a few months ago, about the fact that we've both slowed way down, in terms of reading printed books (ebooks included). Meaning, we weren't reading much lately, or at all, really.

At first, I put forth the theory that it was due to subtle (and granted, silly) logistics, and started comparing our favorite reading spots, and complaining about the lack of well-lit comfortable places (that are out of the way of high-traffic living areas), to actually do the reading in. Then there was the time thing, too, and the difficulty of scheduling uninterrupted blocks of reading during the days, with any regularity.

Cat, whose livelihood kind of depends on people actually reading things, shook her head, and was like, "You guys... those are terrible reasons".

I kept thinking about this topic, long after the conversation. I very quickly recognized that logistics wasn't the culprit, in that I can read while walking down the street, if need be. I thought about the few times that I did read books during the year (usually involving long flights or vacations), and what the experience was like. Also, since I've had habit-building on my mind, I started thinking about how one would go about creating a regular (daily?) reading habit.

Then I realized what the problem was. Addiction.

I get addicted to things, easily. And once I started a book, it was often worse than the shiniest new videogame. I would want to do nothing else except read, and usually stay up way too late several nights in a row, and would be in zombie mode for like a week.

Faced with this state of affairs, I unconsciously reacted to books (and reading) the same way as I did with videogames. I started avoiding starting them. Because if I didn't start a new book, I couldn't get addicted to it and stay up forever and so on.

But again. This whole thing is silly. I don't want to hide from books like that, they're an important part of my life.

A bit later, when I was talking to omnia_mutantur about this on IM, I figured out how I could at least approach reading again:

I would have to practice stopping reading, regularly.

Scheduling, or logistics, or reading itself, was not the problem. Stopping the activity after a reasonable amount of time was. Since I have a daily call at noon each day, I could schedule a regular reading time during lunch, right before the call. And since the call serves as a natural barrier, I can use it to book-end the reading activity, and use it as training wheels to practice stopping.

I am now a month or so into this new habit, and it's been a mixed success.

The bad part: the actual stopping, once I sit down to read, is still really damn hard. I still have to keep practicing, and when the noontime alarm rings, I have to consciously say to myself "D, you are practicing *stopping*". Also, I've been doing this thing where, if I'm flying somewhere, I usually start reading in the airport, and since my trips take up most of the day, I end up reading most of the book in one sitting. So when I get home, I am compelled to finish it! So again, I've stayed up late a couple of times, gobbling up a book in one sitting. So yeah. Work in progress. I'm thinking, this is still acceptable civilian casualties, in the battle to have reading in my life.

The good part: I've read way more printed fiction this last few months, than I have in the previous year or two! I've been alternating re-reading old favorites and reading new books.

Recently Read:

* re-read Interstellar Pig (held up surprisingly well!)

* finally finished Engine Summer by Crowley. Loved this deeply, all other post-apocalyptic books need to go stand in the corner and think about what they've done.

* finished Eon by Greg Bear (after ages of trying). Again, I was really impressed with the book this time around, and I loved how it portrayed some incredibly advanced posthuman topics (and it was written in the 1985)!

* read Space Demons (mentioned a while ago by @zaboots; very similar plot to Interstellar Pig). Given that this was about a computer game (that was actually real!), this was way better than I figured it would be!

* re-read Neuromancer. I reallly don't understand all the .. no, not hate, the disdain for this book :) I, personally, think it has aged fairly well. I'm biased, though, this is probably the book I have re-read the most.

* read Eternity, a sequel to Eon. Similarly surprised and impressed.

* Finished Bleeding Edge by Pynchon. Ugh. I am a huge Pynchon fan, but I think this has been the weakest of his works that I've read so far. (And I loved Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day. And Crying of Lot 49, too.) Though his writing is just how I usually like it, it deals with two subjects that are a huge turn-off for me. One, it takes place in NYC the summer before September 11 (and touches on it, towards the end of the book). I.. gah. Can't stand that, as a theme in my fiction. In addition, one of the most central features of the book is this video game, an open-source MMO type thing that is, shall we say, well beyond the means of 2001 technology. Damn kids playing in my techno sandbox, and getting it 'rong.

* read The Myocene Arrow by Sean McMullen. (book 2 in the trilogy started by Souls in the Machine). Mwahahaha, I loved this with unabashed glee. Postapocalyptic Australia (and now, North America)! Psionic whales! Rogue AIs! Wind-powered trains! Mutants! Sex and drama! Flintlock-pistol-wielding dueling librarians! Computers made out of people! Diesel-powered retro airplane dogfights in the Rocky Mountains!. I could not get enough of it.

* read The Eyes of the Calculor, book 3 in the Myocene trilogy, sequel to the above. More of the same, but now with more convoluted Shakespearean comedy style drama! (Low-tech) intercontinental war between Australia and North America! More rogue AI action, more dogfights, more people-powered computers! What is not to love? (don't actually answer that).

* re-read The White Queen by Gwyneth Jones (book 1 of the Aleutian Trilogy), which I remember liking a lot when I read it. Has held up well.

* read North Wind and Phoenix Cafe (books 2 and 3 in the Aleutian Trilogy). I deeply like this series. Has some of the best meditations on gender, biotech, alien contact, politics and much more. (My one quibble with it is.. hmm, this is going to take a longer post. I'll just say - inconsistent treatment of magic technology and the actual effect it would have on things.)

Whew! Next up, gonna re-read The Hormone Jungle by Robert Reed, which is a fairly obscure book but I remember really liking, way back.

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I used to chain-read books for pleasure even through my dissertation days, but it has more or less stopped since I started teaching. Maybe I feel that if I'm reading, I should be reading something academic (so that I end up not reading a book at all)? Maybe I've lost my ability to concentrate? Maybe the habit of procrastination has become so ingrained in me that I procrastinate even fun things?

All I know is that I'm sitting in a cafe right now with 90 minutes of guilt-free time until I have to be somewhere, in my second full week of summer vacation, and instead of reading a novel or something, I am refreshing social network sites in a desultory sort of way.

Accordingly, I have a giant stack of books (metaphorically; literally, there are several smaller stacks) that I want to read but haven't yet. As far as Cat's livelihood is concerned, though, I keep buying her books and putting them in the aforementioned stack(s). So, there's that, at least.

First of all - I am SO sympathetic to this state of affairs. Believe me.

But. Seems to me like you need to Commit (tm) :)
Do 15 mins of reading a day. See how it treats you.

Not a bad plan at all.

Interesting -- I just read "The White Queen" and was unimpressed. (I'm on a campaign to read the Tiptree award winners.) I think it was because there was no character I could really relate to. So it was a little noodly, but none of the ideas were new and none of the characters became beloved, which pretty much made it hard for me to think of it as more than "eh". I doubt I'll read books two and three, so I don't mind spoilers... what was your longer post? [grins, enables]

Also, I'll totally have to try "Souls in the Machine"!

Edited at 2014-05-29 01:55 am (UTC)

You know, that's interesting. That's the second time I've heard that recently - "couldn't find a character I could relate to" about a book. (Not that particular one, just in general). And I find it startling - do most people require (or prefer, let's say) characters they can identify with?
That's such a rare occurrence for me, though.

I would say White Queen is the weakest book of the trilogy. So, book one deals with the initial alien contact (and the human resistance/guerilla actions that it inspires, including the creation of an FTL device). Book two takes place a century or two after, deals with a human backlash against the aliens, but also the gradual cultural effect (domination, really) of the alien tech. It also talks about the Gender Wars that sweep the globe, I definitely liked that part. It also talks about a joint human/alien quest to find the lost FTL tech from the first book.
Book 3.. man, it goes to some fucked up places, gender-wise. It's again set a few centuries forward, and looks at a world completely dominated/owned by the aliens and their biotech. And again, deals with.. not a resistance, exactly (because the aliens are leaving Earth anyway), but a revival of human culture and technology, which has been completely subsumed. I definitely liked this part, it deals with youth counter-culture, gaming, and various other interesting to me topics.

As for the longer post - it has to do, basically, with nanotechnology and computing. Wayyy too many authors use it as... not magic dust. That's a different beef. No, the one I'm talking about is - they use it in this ONE narrow context, but not outside of it. So like, in the third book, it keeps going on about how humans have lost their high technology and science. Oh, "except" for these full VR nanotech-powered gaming machines. But that's it. Not understanding that.. in order to manufacture these machines and to make them work, you need a huge technological infrastructure. Like, if you have nanotech eyedrops that hook up all your senses to a fully-VR gaming rig.. that is some serious technology there. You cannot have that in an otherwise low tech/postapocalyptic setting. Yet I see this done ALL the time by authors.

Aaahaha - you HAVE to try Souls in the Machine. I can't fully model your reading preferences, but if there's one book that I've read that seems like it was tailor-made for you, I would have to say that one :) And I'm SURE you'll find lots of juicy things to, uh, disagree with, with the author, and would look forward to reading those.
But.. seriously. Read em.

Edited at 2014-05-29 04:42 pm (UTC)

Aaaaah I am in the middle of "Souls in the Great Machine" now and you were totally right, I love it! There will be a book post about it in the next couple of weeks. Thank you so much for recommending it to me; I ordered the second book in the trilogy today.

The concept that I really liked in and took away from White Queen, was its treatment of telepathy. How the aliens seem to possess telepathy, but in reality it's a combination of good body language reading and internal modeling of the other person. (And how they're frequently wrong about their internal model, and use spoken word speech to synch up their assumptions, collapse the wave function. And how they're ok with being wrong, the ambiguity of it.)

I think about that stuff a lot (it's frequently on my mind), in the sense of, how much of that we try to do in our day to day lives.

I find with most new to me books I want to read them in a couple of sittings, so I might start them on a night when I don't have to work the next day, and that way I can stay up late, or if I am too tired, I can finished it the next day. Partly I'm able to do this because I can usually read a novel in 3-6 hours, so it is not as big a time investment as it might be if I read slower.

That said, authors like Pynchon and Murakami I tend to read much slower because the text is doing so much work. But still the habit is to start when I have a chunk of time and then continue for about an hour or two every night until I finish it.

I think I may have mentioned to you before that if I start a book on a work night my rule is to re-read, because there isn't the same impulse to keep going and read just one more page with books I have read before. Although some of that depends on the style, and which stage of the plot I am at, if I'm in the last third of a book with a fast moving plot, I'm more likely to keep going until the end.

Ahh, that's a good approach! (Especially if you read fast.)

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Ha! Yes. I often feel like there should be Required Reading lists for many topics/subgenres. For /writers/ to have to read before writing stuff :)

Hmm, that's interesting. I did think of the two books in the sense of - they deal with MMO type things. But in this particular case, I'm not sure if there's any overlap. Stephenson is -very- familiar with how MMORPGs work, and he dove into the details of how one would go about improving it, of building a WOW-killer, that sort of thing.

Pynchon, on the other hand, does the hand-wavey thing with technology. One gets the feeling that he doesn't really know how online games work, and doesn't really care. And the software in his book isn't -really- a game. More like.. an online shared environment, like an old-school MUSH, very surreal and kind of magical. I really didn't like that part.

So, I don't know about social contact or overlap, between the two.

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Yeah, heh, literally, in Bleeding Edge's case.

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Haha, nice! What other good stuff has he written?

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Gah, the House of Stairs looks terrifying :) I will not be reading that. (And also a bit like 1984, which I hated).

Singularity looks interesting, though.

Addiction? Mmmmaaaaayyyyybeeee.

But if addiction is psychic retreat, how about building a life you love to inhabit? I bet there are books in that life.

(I had trouble with Bleeding Edge, too - it sent me right back to Gravity's Rainbow.)

Explain moar - what do you mean about the connection between retreat and building a life one wants?

I've been thinking about this all weekend. I think I mean - feed your hungry dog and it won't bite off your hand. If that makes sense.

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