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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reading in the Twitter era

I’m half way through the next book for discussion here (not the one pictured right...) and it’s such a rich feast of delights I have to keep taking little breaks to digest before moving on, for fearing of missing anything.

Oh, I can hardly wait to share it with you…

In the meantime, while lying sick in bed for what is now nearly four weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my ongoing relationship with reading. And I’ve realised that the subconscious impulse to start this book diary was to make sure I start reading intensely again, because I was coming close to losing it.

This strange decline started a year ago when I read the first book in the Twilight series. I only picked it up because the phenomenon of Stephanie Mayer kept my last novel out of the top four slots of the Australian bestseller lists in 2008. She had them tied up for months dammit. Know your enemy, I thought.

After a sleepless night finishing it, I understood her appeal. I went on to devour the next three books and although I found them progressively less engaging, I remained oddly and intensely caught up in the parallel world she has created.

While your front brain constantly reminds you it’s hysterical teenage Mormon nonsense (Read On Public Transport score: 0), some lower area of it becomes obsessed. It was like a weird spell had been cast over me.

Then the marvellous film of Twilight came out and made matters worse, as it not only captured but improved upon everything I found compelling in the book. With the added and utter glory that is Rob Pattinson in the male lead. I still find the scene where they are high up in the tree together absolutely swoon-inducing.

The only comfort I had in this ongoing delirium was that so many of my friends, were similarly affected – mature, tertiary-educated, sophisticated, partnered-up women every one.

The collective insanity really was most peculiar and I wasn’t released until the truly terrible film of New Moon came out late last year. It was so cringingly aimed at the teen market I screamed with laughter all the way through and left the cinema feeling as though I had been exorcised.

But apart from the humiliation of being gripped by an adolescent fervour, the worst thing was that after charging through those penny dreadful novels, I just couldn’t settle to reading anything else. It went on for months, most of last year. I tried all kinds of books – even other vampire nonsense - but nothing could hold my attention.

And then the funny thing was, that around that very time, I read two newspaper articles that closely reflected my experiences. (The glory of this being a blog, as opposed to a newspaper article, is that I can’t be bothered to research who they were by. Sorry.)

Suffice to say that a woman in the Guardian described exactly the feeling of panic I have about having only a finite number of books left to read before death. Then a chap in the Times described having a reading block identical to mine. My zeitgeist gland started to throb.

The final word came just the other day – Feb 10th at 8.22 pm, to be precise – when Alain de Botton posted a comment on Twitter which summed up the whole malaise:

“The book will be killed not directly by new technology but by the monkey mind it breeds. The issue is concentration, not royalties.”


And as I am entirely addicted to Twitter’s gibbon-brain perma-novelty, it seems all the more urgent I continue this reading diary, to keep my frontal lobe supple enough to absorb works longer than 140 characters.

PS The irony is that I was finally rescued from my reading paralysis by The Leopard (by Tomasi Di Lampedusa), which I was prompted to read after @indiaknight and @CharlieMcVeigh discussed it on Twitter...


  1. You've really hit the nail on the head there! While I began the year virtuously aiming to read one novel per week, as I am taking time off work (also requiring a self-imposed twitter ban for certain parts of the day), my concentration has already lapsed and I can now only manage a few pages before I get all squirmy and antsy.

    In the era of Twitter and the world wide interwebs, there is certainly an expectation of instant gratification and a tendency to 'multitask' while consuming media and text.

    I just hope my brain can hang on long enough to manage a thesis (writing one, that is, I would never bother concentrating long enough to read one :-P).

  2. Ah yes, the Leopard. Seems many moons since I was in Sicily. For what it's worth I'm about to start a new translation of Tin Drum, having been thoroughly demoralised (but compelled) by Andrew Sorkin's Too Big To Fail.

  3. Have you read Saki's shorts stories? I highly reccomend them. Especially anything from "Beasts and Superbeasts" or "The Chronicles of Clovis".

  4. Dear Maggie, having loved your SMH column for a while now I am glad to have discovered your blog. I can now freely admit that I have just spent the last week in a dazed lack-of-sleep state due to picking up a copy of Twilight to see what all the fuss was about (as 35yr old mother of young twins I really ought to be grabbing sleep where I can) Anyway, it has been much more relaxing than spending my evenings flitting around on the web and I am glad you may have some reading recommendations for me when I get to the end of the series (New Moon already proving less satisfying but still unputdownable)

  5. Reading for me is relaxation but I cannot flit and am fiercely loyal to my favourite authors. I had the literary equivalent of a Christmas Dinner Binge when I splurged on a new Marion,Micheal Connelly, Nick Hornby and found your latest. But once read I had no appetite for new authors,and went on my usual re-read of each, "picking of the leftovers on Boxing Day".
    Since then I have read nothing other than blogs, twitter and facebook, unwilling to settle for a new author, taste something new.

    Maybe Alexander McCall Smith will revive me with another visit to Botswana? otherwise I think I will head back to Hogwarts to see if anything new turns up in what is probably my tenth re-read.

    (The great thing about Mumnesia is that I sometimes forget the endings and it comes as a complete surprise to find out who Lata marries in A Suitable Boy or what Phuti Radaphuti will make of his fiancee continuing to work)


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