10 May 2014

If it's Sunday …: Reading Resets

A few Sundays ago, I woke up remembering how, when I was in graduate school, I developed a way of giving myself, every Sunday – I thought of it then as a little present, or a mini-vacation, but in these technologically more ‘advanced’ times we might just say that I found my personal reset button. It was a godsend at the time – and, when it came back to me last month, I couldn’t believe I’d ever let it slip away. It still works – wonders!

My discovery came in the early years of a Ph.D. program, when the work consisted mostly of reading, and plenty of it. Before I discovered my Sunday reset ploy, I, like most of my fellow students, worked almost all the time I wasn’t in class or eating or drinking coffee. Days off were few and far between, and – week in, week out – every day picked up right where the one before it had left off. It seemed the only way to get a break was to spend a weekend far away, and the rare occasions when I managed that, only showed me how much I needed something comparable all the other weekends of the year.

And showed me that a change of gears was a good investment of time: I got much more done in the five days after a weekend away than I would have in seven days of virtually uninterrupted work. But how was I going to manage it all the other weekends?

The solution came suddenly, one Sunday, a few decades ago, and it arrived full-fledged, with all the necessary details in place: instead of picking up on Sunday wherever I had left off the night before… I would read whatever new, previously unstarted book was calling out to me. The only requirement I imposed was that there had to be a good chance of finishing the book that same day.

Now, for me, that meant that the book had to be relatively short. I’ve never been a speed-reader. But, fortunately, shorter books were becoming more abundantly available. I didn’t select books with a maximum word- or page-count in mind, but I generally had an idea of what I could get through in a day and still have it feel like a vacation. That usually meant something more like a novella or short novel than a ‘full-length’ novel, and if I’d had an ideal page-count it might have been 150 pages – something in the neighborhood of 2000 ‘locations’ on a Kindle today.

I don’t always remember specifically which books I read on those Sundays. The ones I remember most clearly tended to be in French: Camus’s (first) posthumous novel, La mort heureuse; Stendhal’s Armance; a slim volume of televised conversations with Jacques Lacan. None of these sounds like highly promising ‘escape’ reading – but I’m sure I did my share of that, too. There were novels like the ones Graham Greene originally called ‘entertainments’, and repeated doses of Balzac and Henry James; there were plays and screenplays, and pulp fiction galore – all that I remember clearly was that the Sunday reading always did the trick. I came back to my regular reading on Monday morning feeling like a new man.

And now I’ve rediscovered that Sunday reboot button. I’ll save that for another blogpost on another day. For now, I’ll just say that the first book of my new era of Sundays was a surprising one, for me at least: Dostoevsky’s The Double  … 


Jim Carpenter said...

A good habit to make!

Paula Cappa said...

Love Sundays! Looking forward to seeing more of your posts, Jim.