I could be wrong, but I think that January 2018 was the first month since I started this blog that I read zero books. I mean, zero of the non-philosophy books that I read for fun and general interest and list here on the right hand side of this blog.
A month with no books disturbs me. Not because I have some weird hifalutin idea about the life of the mind and not because I'm snobby about books as opposed to other forms of entertainment -- but just because I like to read, and I'm like, what the hell have I been doing with my time? Why didn't I read any books in January?
Of course, the "what have I been doing with my time" invites the honest, universal, and prima facie relevant answer that "Well, I've been busy." It is true that my job is time-consuming and I've been extra busy lately. But I don't think that's the crucial issue. In the past, there have actually been times when I've been extra busy and I've read more books, because I'm extra in need of the distraction and decompression that novels provide. And I can read anywhere. I like to eat alone and read. I read when I'm waiting in line or early to something. I read before dinner, when I'm just home from the gym, and I read after dinner.
So it's not a brute time factor. I have two hypotheses, which are equally uncomfortable for me in different ways.
The first is: I've been looking at the internet. Yes, all those times when I'm sitting around or early to something or whatever, instead of looking at a novel, I've been looking at the news on my phone. GAWD -- as my mother would have said. It doesn't even have the interactivity of social media, it's just stupid stories about Brexit, and Donald Trump, and school shootings, and more Brexit. I don't know if I have a soft spot for British news because Britain is truly dysfunctional in a more entertaining way than the US or whether I'm kidding myself about that, but man, do I read a lot about British dysfunction. In any case, as a way of spending time, it's ridiculous.
The second is: I was catching up on my New Yorker reading. OK, I know this sounds like an absurd thing to be concerned about but hear me out. Throughout my life, I've heard always hear people talk about how they were "behind on their New Yorker reading." For me, this was in the same category as something like "I have eight books on my bedside table that I've started and haven't finished." And I felt like they were both absurd in similar ways. Because, when it comes to art, I prided myself on doing the things I liked doing and not doing the other things.
I don't like having "guilty pleasures." When I have pleasures, I like to stand up for them. Like Beavis and Butthead, or the song Blurred Lines (yes. I wrote about it here.) And I don't like having the opposite of guilty pleasures -- which, whatever you'd call them, are like things you feel you ought to do for culture but you don't want to. Artistically, I am invested in doing the things I like doing and not other things. And "catching up on" New Yorker reading always felt to me like the opposite of that.
And yet here I am. I got like ten issues behind, and I couldn't bear to just let it go and start up again on the new issue. I'm not sure why. So all those moments, when I could have been reading a novel, I was catching up on my New Yorker reading -- I mean, when I wasn't drowning in news about Brexit.
The good news is, I'm all caught up. And before February was over my friend said to me, casually, Oh, have you read An American Marriage? It's really good. Got it, on it, hopefully back on track.