The masters is over, dissertation marked, grades received. Life as an adult is taking full swing in the form of a new job and being a car owner for the first time ever.
It had to happen sometime, I guess. I mean, I’ve been putting it off for a while now.
I’ve also been thinking about what I’ve taken from my latest stint as a student—and one of the most important ones has been learning to take breaks.
I don’t mean holidays, although they are great. Or tea breaks, I’ve always been pretty good at those.
I mean taking a break from books.
Not all books, don’t worry.
Over the course of the past couple of years I’ve grown used to reading multiple books at any one time, and I’m finding it a difficult habit to shake off. But I have decided to embrace this new way of reading, as I think it could potentially make for a richer reading experience.
In the past, I was always afraid that if I stopped reading a book half way through and came back to it later, it would be a bit like the Walt Whitman quote above: “We were together. I forget the rest.” I mean, I do have quite a bad memory for a lot of things, especially those happening in the here and now. But I now find I can comfortably put a book aside, not touch it for a week or two, or a month or two, or even several months, and then come back to it, simply picking up seamlessly from where I’d left off.
Short stories are especially good for this.
In September I began reading You Should Come With Me Now (2017), by M. John Harrison.
In October, I put it aside and haven’t touched it since. But that’s fine.
I’m actually really enjoying reading it. Harrison’s method of combining flash fiction with slightly longer stories that spread over fifteen or so pages creates a satisfying rhythm. His humour is dry as stone, much as my own can be, and cuts through this book like a sharp knife. It is a collection of stories that is at times surreal, eerie, thought-provoking and completely en-point with contemporary life.
So why am I taking a break from reading it?
At times, Harrison’s prose can seem a little too self-aware, mostly of it’s own cleverness. And it is very clever, but can at times lack warmth. Occasionally it feels so wrapped up in some kind of post-postmodern smug that perhaps it forgets that someone actually has to read it. That the person reading it is a person, rather than a machine with a penchant for satire. It can come across as cold.
Which may of course be the intention. We are living in an increasingly mechanised society. People stare at screens more than they talk with actual people, and our technology itself is becoming more intelligent by the minute. Our interaction with the world and the people in it is changing, becoming perhaps more indirect and colder. You Should Come With Me Now could definitely act as a reflection of that.
As I said, I am enjoying it, and I will come back to it soon. But it felt like I needed to take a break from its particular style, and perhaps it needed one from this particular reader.
I’ll pick it up again in a bit.