I’ve stopped reading novels. That may be a bit dramatic considering the fact that about two months ago I read the first three books in a quadrilogy and am anxiously awaiting number four to come out sometime this summer (the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, whoever she really is). But the basic truth stands: I’m barely reading novels. My childhood was composed of reading novels in between doing the other stuff. I always had a novel with me; it was the built-in companion for an introvert who didn’t want to sit at home all the time. In college I changed from majoring in Political Science to English Literature because in one we read theories that put me to sleep and in the other we read about people who captivated me. I needed to be drawn in to other possibilities. I tried going for a masters in literature, but after realizing that it was not to luxuriate in the details of countless classics, but to delve into literary analysis, with barely a hello to the worlds we were killing with critique, I dropped that to return to the couch of casual reading.
And I’m not the only woman of my certain age who seems to be transitioning from fiction to non. The books we read in my book club are steadily shifting from mainly novels, when we started around seven years ago, to today’s emerging emphasis on non-fiction. Even the fiction that we read is generally of the international variety, so it encompasses a “learning about the world” non-fictionish aspect.
This reading realization has me wondering why I’m transitioning at this time in my life. Part of me thinks it must be tied to why I can barely listen to music on the radio any more. Need I say “topic”? I have absolutely no patience to listen to people who can’t breathe without love. I mean really. Get a life. Get a job where you can’t mope. Get on with things. Nor do I care to read about the tribulations of finding true love and a great career while wearing, what is it that they are wearing over their thongs? Nor do I want to read about (must I say it?) marriage and/or divorce and/or man-woman relationships. Is it because I’ve spent/wasted too much life-time thinking about those things that I can’t expend more time in my supposedly relaxing moments to think about them anymore? Or is it because I’m a teeny bit bitter and don’t want to expend my jealousy quotient on a fake character created by another frustrated woman who sets up her alter ego to live happily ever after? Whatever the reason, neither my interests nor my life are in those books. Is it also okay to complain about conversations that aren’t realistic? Maybe I just don’t want to read variations on a life, but rather I want to learn specific things about life. There’s so much to learn about that the vagaries of he did/said she did/said is past my patience level.
Is this my descent into being a crotchety woman or just one of those women “who knows her mind”?
An alternative explanation is that since I spend so much of my life with my students and being aware that I am part of the story that they are creating of their lives, in my time away from class (and all that it involves in and outside of school), I need to fully step away from a deep personal involvement which is required when reading a novel. This is also why, I am sure, I have neither the ability nor desire to become absorbed in a TV drama or sitcom, and prefer the non-attachment of home and cooking shows.
Another possible explanation or part of the whole is that now that I have a good sense of life in its basic configuration (the stuff of those songs and novels that I can no longer listen to or read) when I read I want to learn things that are beyond the realm of what I can grasp through my own filter. What I need is a kind of midlife university where I can fill in the gaping gaps of things I feel I should know more about than simply knowing that they happened, and learn about the things I should have been aware of. In short, I don’t want to skate along on the wonderful plane of pretense.
Life-long learner, indeed.
As I sit here thinking about the books I have read, I remember that I used to have an affinity for biographies: life and history. Maybe this change of focus from fiction to non reflects a realization that not only do I want to enter the imaginations of people through the stories they create, but that I want to learn about their worlds through the stories they have lived. Perhaps when we can start looking back on our own lives, we can appreciate the longer view and detailed examination non-fiction requires, and not focus on the moments that accompany ours.