This weekend I indulged in some serious guilty pleasure reading. I was struggling with Orlando by Virginia Woolf and suddenly I found myself scanning my roommates bookshelf. One Sophie Kinsella, several Mary Higgins Clark and around two thousand romances. I chose a slim volume called “The Brazilians blackmailed bride.” I know that enough of you have read Mills and Boons at some point so you know how the story goes. I was mildly surprised at how sexist it was (“She was weak, just like all women.”) but mostly I was surprised at how much I didn’t care that I was wasting my time reading a book like that. To be fair, it wasn’t bad writing, but the characters were terribly annoying and what they did was incredibly predictable. End of story. After they kissed on the last page I closed the book and pondered.
Bombay is not kind to the readers among us. We work ourselves to the bone, we get home smelling of sweat and trains and we’re always hungry, tired and trying to rid our lungs of all the exhaust fumes we inhale on a daily basis. I’ve heard several people say “I used to read a lot but now I barely get the time.” I get that. Are we really expected to curl up on the couch with Ullysses on a Monday night? If at all we read, we want it to be a light escapist soiree involving fluttering blonde women with names like Sophia and bronzed Brazilians who in my mind are built like Gaston from Disneys’ Beauty and the Beast. Does that make us stupid? No it doesn’t and there’s no shame in the occasional “The disobedient virgin’s secret affair. In Rio. They do it several times.” But as readers, we need to be disciplined.
Reading is not easy. I’ve always been a reader and sometimes I struggle like hell with the books I choose to read. Here are some things I’ve learned about the habit. I hope it will help you.
1. Categorise your books into those that will go fast and those that require concentration. Don’t read the latter in the train or when you’re tired. There are train books and there are non-train books.
2. If you’re reading something written several generations before you were born, trust me, no matter how exciting the plot, it will be slow at points. The best example I can think of is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. You’re several pages into the book before the narrator even gets to the Congo. It’s worth it, so keep reading. Be patient.
3. You don’t have to finish the book all at once. It can get to you. Take a break for a month or two and get back to it.
4. Make time. If you are genuinely too tired during the week, give yourself three hours on he weekend.
5. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. For every three Gabriel Garcia Marquez you read, you can read one “A summer in Copacabana.” That’s just good maths.