Donnerstag, 26. April 2018

It’s OK to give up on a book (unless it’s one of mine) / Stephanie Merritt. In: The Guardian 25 Apr 2018

“Book block” sounds like one of those invented modern conditions, like Instagram- or sex-addiction, that you make up as a pseudo-pathologised excuse for not having any willpower, which could be easily remedied in one fell swoop by just putting the phone in another room while you finish the damned book. But the former is, apparently, a real and serious problem that’s “paralysing” 35 million Britons, according to a survey by the Reading Agency published to coincide with this year’s World Book Night.
Of the readers surveyed, 54% regularly struggle with a book for an average of three months, feeling costive and guilty. The point of these revelatory statistics is to encourage us to throw off the puritanical shackles of literary obligation and skip through books with the kind of insouciance we save for scrolling through the Sky box – a revolution the Reading Agency has jauntily named “quit-lit”. “I’m quit-litting!”, you might now announce to your family, proudly liberated, tossing the reproachful half-read book over your shoulder, where once you would have just kicked it a bit further under the sofa while you live-tweeted Queer Eye instead.
As a writer, I have mixed feelings about the quit-lit idea. On the one hand, if you’ve bought my book then I thank you, my child can eat that day , and it’s up to you what you do with it after that. On the other, every author wants to have written the book that readers can’t put down, rather than the one they prop open at the same page for their entire commute while looking at their phone: it’s our job to come up with a story that’s compelling enough to compete with the multiple potential distractions In the same way that songwriters have had to adapt to the way people listen to music now, ditching long intros in order to stop people skipping away on Spotify before the first 30 seconds, so writers may need to rethink the way we shape stories if we want to hold readers’ attention in the face of so much competition.
Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison: the same survey suggests that we have a peculiar attitude to books, couched in a language of duty and morality, that doesn’t apply to other cultural output. Some 22% of respondents said they felt you should never give up on a book. It’s an admirable sentiment in some senses, and one I was raised with. You should always give books a chance, my mother impressed on me as a child, because not everything is immediately rewarding, and something that appears hard work can often yield the greatest insight. I hear myself repeating this to my teenage son when he complains that he’s bored with a book, especially if it’s a so-called classic, and fear that I’m reinforcing this bizarre retrograde notion that books should be regarded in the same way as eating vegetables – necessary and improving, but not really to be enjoyed.
There are glimmers of hope: the survey also revealed that the book most people have failed to finish is not Wolf Hall but Fifty Shades of Grey, which argues for a healthy level of discernment among the reading public. But perhaps we need to question what we mean when we talk about “enjoying” books.
Over half the respondents said they would avoid or give up on a book if it made them sad, on the grounds that there’s enough to be upset about in the world – an approach that might account for the growing trend in what publishers are calling “up-lit”. But 49% also agreed that reading improves our ability to empathise and understand, and maybe we can’t have it both ways. Reading to connect with other lives might often require us to feel uncomfortable or distressed, and that’s not something to quit in a hurry.


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