Back to Fiction - The Reading Habit
I used to be an avid reader. The ‘used to be’ being the key here. Not all kinds of books; I was picky about genres, yet there was never a dearth of books.
And I loved fiction novels. Mysteries to solve, humour to enjoy, situations to observe, crimes to catch and realities to question; they had it all. Through the years, I was able to explore many sub-genres of fiction through some great authors.
But sometime in the last few years, I lost the patience and the drive to pick up a book and, sometimes, even finish it in a single sitting.
I was lost, until now.
How did I form the habit in the first place? How did I lose it? Why did I want to go back to it? And how did I finally do?
I picked up reading as a habit through my school years and a lot of my reading profile was formed based on what was accessible. Fiction started with teenage detectives and transitioned towards crime, mystery, thrillers (from Enid Blyton's Famous Five to Nancy Drew, from Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot). Before adding further concepts of comedy, realism and science fiction (the varieties of P.G. Wodehouse to Isaac Asimov). This was further accentuated by the numerous available comic books (from Tinkle to Archies).
Libraries in school, and college, as well as corner book shops, were my sources through the years, but the habit started at home. Books were always present in our home during my childhood. My father was the reader out of my parents, and his books were my initial collection. He instilled a lot of behaviours during my growing years and reading was one of them.
I would get engrossed in the world created by the authors and imagined myself being a part of that storyline. Envisioning the construct from words, finding myself in the midst of a car chase or as the detective solving a crime, there was always a challenge of putting the blocks together to form a complete picture.
It turned out to be an outlet of meditation and taking a step back. It also helped build patience and I was always at peace when reading a book. I learnt to project that patience and peace back into the real world, by seeing it through the prism of a book.
It was sometime later I realized that it was serving another function. From the multiple domains, I was gleaning information and knowledge about — people and behaviours and reactions to situations, cities and places without visiting them, and cultures and languages and the complex layers in between.
I wouldn’t particularly remember all that I had read, but subconsciously I was absorbing the elements and drawing inferences. I was creating a repository of those learnings. This knowledge helped me in creating a presence in many circumstances over the years and the growth of my personality.
This was all through the wide genre of fiction. I had tried non-fiction like biographies, historical chronicles, far and few, but they never seemed to engage my mental fortitude or leave me with a feeling of satisfaction.
Hence it was an imaginary world of fiction providing me with value in the real world. I was true to the habit, and in return, it was true to me.
Looking back, my habit started degrading towards a non-habit with the improvement in the internet speeds. And the volatile nature of my thoughts.
Mind you, I was still reading a lot. The accessibility to the internet had opened up a trove of online content available for consumption and I was engrossed. News, articles, publications, research cases, blogs, even sporting commentary in the written form, reading and consuming a lot. Just not books. There was still an occasional book when travelling, but not very regular.
Then the online content was also not limited to written only. While access to video content during college was always there, due to the internet speeds it had to be planned in advance and/or someone had to be asked. With the advent of video, and later streaming sites, access to video content was suddenly unlimited. This definitely played a role in having an effect on the reading habit.
I assumed that I was getting a similar form of information and learning by watching the content, instead of spending time reading a novel. And video content was faster and shorter and became more and more easily accessible.
The imagination one has to engage in while watching content was also less challenging and I reasoned that it gave the mind more bandwidth to focus on real-world actions. Finally, I convinced myself that I was still reading; news, articles, blogs. So maybe I was not missing out on much.
Once the habit started degrading, it got caught in a downward spiral. The internet made it easy. My mind and the assumptions made it easier.
I was always interested in books. There is a certain romance attached to the idea of the smell of a new book or the enthusiasm of turning a page over, and I was not immune to those. But I was missing a lot more than that.
Gradually there was this realization that the patience built up through reading, had diminished over time. And once again, I was craving for the peace of mind that books gave. The challenge attached to imagining the world in the books was what made the mind tick. And I could do it effortlessly. Over and above, the information gleaned from the video content was just a fraction that I used to accumulate through novels.
And so, I wanted to restart the practice of reading books. Even books in one sitting. I did make attempts. Over the years, there were periods where I suddenly read 5 books in a fortnight. But that would soon regress. These trials felt too far and too few, like the flickering light of a dying candle.
In hindsight, many times in those intervening bursts, I had picked up this knack of experimenting too much. Exploring and widening horizons are acceptable directions when you have a stable base of habit. While it was there once, but not anymore. Yet all those times, I pushed too soon and the momentum I had built, with a few books, used to fritter away. This trend continued through the last few years and until a few days back!
And credit where it is due, this knowledge was not my musing or a sudden blast one fine morning, but the outcome of a thoughtful birthday gift from my wife — getting to order the same number of books as the number of years I was turning to! Such thought!
Armed with this, I was suddenly like the child I was when I had discovered the fiction all those years back. And more importantly, this time I am sticking primarily to the world of mystery, thrillers, science fiction and humour that pulled me in.
That was what I was most excited about.
That was what I was most looking forward to.
That was what I ordered - a large number of fiction books.
Some of the book orders from the birthday gift have been, rightly, pushed back to after the lockdown. But I'm finding ways and means to get my hand on to some selection in the meanwhile. That's a good sign.
It has given me renewed energy to identify with the habit I once had — reading books. And this time I am persisting and going back to what I know, going back to fiction.
Do you have a reading habit? How have you been able to stick to it? Or are you also evaluating steps to get back to it? Or just trying to create a new one?
I don't have a ready list of dos and don'ts for any of the above questions.
But if it is a book reading habit you are thinking about, and if you haven’t done so already, give fiction a try. You’ll be surprised how much it brings to your life.
I have taken an ambitious challenge and you can follow my progress on GoodReads.