I read like it’s my job. Hardcover, soft cover, e-book, audio book: I’ve usually got one of each on the go at any given moment. I’ve always loved reading, being transported into another world, each with their rules, history and people. My hunger for new ideas and worlds seems bottomless. When I was a kid, I listened to hundreds of hours of books-on-tape checked out from the public library. I read all of my Dad’s golden age science fiction novels a thousand times. In university I raided the school’s library for all sorts of amazing translated sci-fi. I can’t get enough. Anytime I’m doing something that doesn’t require me to read or write, I’m listening to an audio book. The number of books I’ve listened to while cooking, cleaning and generally doing routine tasks is mind-boggling.
Two years ago, I went on a William Gibson bender: I read all the Sprawl books, all the Blue Ant books, and his most recent book, The Peripheral. Last year I read the Jean le Flambeur books by Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel. This year I read the Remembrance of Earth’s past series, by Cixin Liu: The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death’s End. Each time I was speechless. All of these authors have the power to tell an interesting story out of interwoven huge and tiny ideas. They don’t just challenge an idea, they shake the foundations of everything you’ve ever understood. From the nature of fashion culture, to the nature of identity and free will, to the nature of the very laws of nature and physics. Nothing is left undisturbed. As Cixin Liu writes in Death’s End, “No dish is left untouched at the banquet.”
Except this year, for all sorts of reasons, I’ve hardly read anything. Even with constant recommendations for books, a subscription to audible, and a subscription to Analog, I only read eleven books in 2016. Eleven! By the end of the year it will probably be twelve. But still, only one book a month. I used to read a book a week. That’s not to say I would finish every book in a week, but since I usually had multiple books going at the same time, I would finish at least one of them every week.
The strangest thing is, I wouldn’t even know if I weren’t intentionally keeping track. It doesn’t feel as though I read forty fewer books this year than two years ago. Shouldn’t there be some perceivable difference? Maybe it’s simply because I read especially dense books this year. The Three Body Problem books are a non-stop series of incredibly well crafted challenges to long-held beliefs in our understanding of the universe. But its certainly more complicated than that. I’ve been writing a lot more this year, and that takes most of the same time I would previously have been reading. I bought a VR headset in the summer, and that took up a good portion of my time as well. I also spent a significant percentage of the year in an extremely poor state of mind. Work drags me down.
Looking back over all the amazing books I’ve read in the last years has been pretty cool. The number of truly spectacular writers out there is humbling, and inspiring. And the number of opportunities is exploding as well. Social media. Internet self publishing. Such a huge density of things to take in. The mass of it pressing down, everything getting a little too compact. Only since I started posting here regularly has that mass suddenly become critical. Instead of purely random noise spewing out into the universe, my ideas spawn new stories, spinning off their own ideas, ever propagating. An exponential reaction.
The fallout of it all is simple. I need to figure out how to make more time for writing. And more time for reading. If I can keep in fissile material, this train could run forever. I just can’t let the unnerving banality of the everyday prevent me from hurling imagination in every direction, and seeing what sticks.
I’m going to post my last few years reading lists here in the next week or so. Hopefully someone finds one of these amazing pieces of fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, interesting enough to pick up and read. There are probably only a single digit number of books I’ve read in the last five years that I didn’t really like. The fusion torch is at my back. I have to make my own contribution. Its only a matter of time.