This article was written by Andrew Blackman.
When it comes to reading, are you shallow or deep?
Don’t worry, I’m not making a value judgment here about the type of books you like to read. This is one situation where deep is not necessarily better than shallow. It’s just a different way of reading.
I, for example, am a shallow reader. What I mean by that is that I never seem to read on any particular topic in depth. I read one book on, say, the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, think it’s fascinating, plan to read more, but never get around to it. I read one book by John Banville, fall in love with his prose, plan to read everything he’s ever written, but never get around to it.
If you can relate to any of this, don’t worry: I like to think that the reason is not laziness. What it comes down to is that life is short. Sure, I’d love to read ten more books about the Mau Mau rebellion, but in the same amount of time I could read books on ten new topics that I might find equally interesting. John Banville is a great writer, yes, but I’ve also heard such great things about Adam Thirlwell, and then there’s that guy who just won the Nobel Prize, and I read a great review of Jamaica Kincaid’s new novel, and what about those five books I bought on a whim at a garage sale? There might be a gem in there.
A ‘deep’ reader would resist the allure of all those new books and authors. She would devote herself to John Banville or the Mau Mau until she’d read everything there was to read. She wouldn’t think about all the ones that got away.
I have to admit, I envy deep readers. I’d love to be able to consider myself an expert on some topic, no matter how small. I’d love to speak with true authority, rather than always being conscious of my ignorance. I’d love to stick to something, instead of always flitting to the next exciting topic or hot author. And there’s something inherently satisfying about complete sets, whether of stamps or books. The collector in me craves more than my current randomness.
But on the other hand, I’m not prepared to give up the essential optimism that underlies my shallowness: the conviction that, as good as this book or this writer was, the next one might be even better. And as a writer, I like to be exposed to a range of styles and topics, to discover new things, to stimulate my imagination.
So this year, I’m planning to acknowledge my shallowness, but take a few small steps in the direction of depth. I’m planning to read in my usual haphazard, scattered fashion, but commit to reading the complete works of at least one author by December (perhaps John Banville would be a good place to start). If I achieve it, then at least I can consider myself a completist in one author… at least until he writes a new book.
Are you a shallow reader or a deep reader? Which authors or topics or genres have you read in real depth? Would you like to change your reading habits, or are you happy the way you are?
Andrew Blackman is the author of the novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009), winner of the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary. His next novel, A Virtual Love, is out in April.
Editor’s note: I ordered A Virtual Love from The Book Depository. Even to the US, they shipped it free.