Rediscovery has been much on my mind of late. Old friends, old favourites, old interests; rediscovered pleasures are rare jewels. Recently, I have begun reading again for the first time in a while. This may come across as incongruous, from someone who writes. The written word is all, surely? Well, yes – in a way it is. But I had, to my chagrin, fallen out of love with reading. You can attribute it to anything, really. Lack of time. My attention span waning as I get older. My gaze being drawn by a million different things to which my younger self had no access. The one who could read two or three books a week without thinking about it, who devoured thousand-page epics in days or at most, weeks, never had half the things I do to divide my attention.
Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s the tyranny of choice. Once I opened my palate to the possibility of new beers, I didn’t even look at lager again for years, until I rediscovered the pleasure of it in Japan. But that level of choice extends to everything in your life now, should you be so lucky. You have a spare half hour? Would m’sieur care to peruse the wine list and play some video games? Watch TV, or Netflix, Stan, Binge, SBS on Demand, iView, or Amazon Prime? Follow a YouTube rabbit hole all the way down? Indulge in a little piracy, perchance? Kick back with some Reels on your platform of choice? Catch up on work or attend to some chore as needs doing? Will you head down to the shops, or out for a coffee or beer with friends? Perhaps you’d like to faff about on social media for a while or pootle about on the internet? Perhaps indulge in a hobby, make or do something to fulfil yourself creatively? Are you hungry? Want to eat anyway? Play with your cat/dog/child? Are you suffering from choice paralysis as time merely passes itself while you do nothing edifying at all? Eh?
Well, it could be stress. Younger me had but a fraction of the concerns and stresses that current me has. Worries about bills, about money, about responsibilities, about relationships. About my health, my future, my work, my home, my pet, the weight of expectation incumbent upon me. That person could happily get lost in whatever narrative interested him without having to worry about what was waiting for him when he came back out. No nagging sense of guilt that he should be doing something more productive with his time. Nothing so severe as to distract him or pull him out of it prematurely. He had things to worry about, sure. But they seemed so much lesser in comparison, and if anything, were a greater spur to disappear into the fantastic.
Money is also less of a barrier now. As a child, there was no ‘well, I can just blow fifty bucks at the pub/movies/cafe/restaurant/show/shops’ etc. You had to make do with what you had. More than some perhaps, or maybe less than others. It’s funny, but even with everything else on offer, reading was always my go-to. I think I loved it more than anything else. I read and re-read and re-re-read books over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read some of those Discworld novels, or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence, or The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a little tacker, just to name a few. And yet, somewhere along the way, it just sort of… dropped off.
Of course, an argument could be made that I am still reading as much as I ever did, but it’s simply not one cohesive narrative; the tens of thousands of words I take in per day are no longer chapters of a novel but rather revisions of my own work, or the endless doomscrolling of Facebook or other socials, the status updates and stories and linked articles that friends post, the other articles, listicles, threads, forums and webcomics, memes and shitposts I divert myself with, the news I need to actively chase down in order to get something balanced, my texts, my messages, my emails. Juicy threads of argument that invariably dissolve into high-ground posturing, grammatical nit-picking* and accusations of Nazism. The podcasts I voraciously consume are another form of narrative, and for those who consider listening to audiobooks to be the same as reading, then the up-to-four-and-a-half-hour-long stories told to me by, say, Mercer et al must surely count as reading too?
*I was sorely tempted to leave the hyphen out of ‘nit-picking’, but my inner editor didn’t appreciate the irony
Or, it may be that it begins to feel like a chore. Like that lager I used to drink, it just began to taste flat and acrid once my tongue begun to dance with the flowers and fruit of hop and ester. Something I drank only to get drunk. With reading, it could be that I, in a fit of self-betterment, decided that I must stop reading ‘fun’ books and instead read challenging or improving books, ‘homework’ books. A book that I should read and not one that I actually want to read. I know that I’m going to have fun if I read something where someone tries to kill a dragon with a sword (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), or scandalously try to seduce their twin sister (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), or try to fight back the reanimated hordes of a zombie king with little more than a wall of ice and the meagre, uncaring support of a collection of warring city-states, etcetera, etcetera.
Perhaps I put down that series and picked up a dense and turgid Russian, or a mopey, windswept and interesting Yorkshire type, or a dense symbolist American, or even a prosaic and quietly tragic Australian and just sort of… lost interest. Found it more and yet more difficult to pick up that weighty tome each night until one day I just put it down and never took it up again. Could be that I was loving a book or its series but it just began to bloat and drag so severely that I lost all interest (looking at you, George R.R. Martin). Once you are technically engaged in reading a book, that’s the book you have to read, right? This fallacious little piece of thinking has stood in opposition to me picking up something light to get the juices flowing again and keep my reading muscles oiled before getting back into the heavy mental lifting of the ‘should-read’ book.
This needn’t pertain solely to reading, or to beer either. Music is another big one. Have you ever heard an old banger at a bar, or a mate’s house or – age pending – the radio and thought to yourself ‘wow, I used to really love this. Why haven’t I listened to it in so long?’ Or it could even be an old friend. An old ride-or-die who you just… fell out of contact with. Perhaps the only thing you need to do is pick up a phone and they become a shining jewel in your life once again.
It’s easy to be distracted by everything the modern world has to offer, and there is tremendous value in forging bravely ahead into new and uncharted territory. It can be immensely edifying to leave behind great chunks of your immature, unseasoned, unsophisticated self as you grow and flourish. But don’t forget to look back every once in a while. You never know what wonderful things might have fallen by the wayside while you were charging into that beckoning unknown. All it can take is one hot afternoon, one salty meal, one act of hospitality or a dearth of choice somewhere along the line and you have something reawakened in you that you once though lost. You begin to thirst for a crispy lager, something with a little spice and a little savouryness that goes down even smoother than water on a hot afternoon. Might be you need a friend to share that with, or a good book, or just a banging choon to listen to while you re-immerse yourself into something that will bring a little more joy back into your life. And couldn’t we all use a little more joy in our lives right about now?
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