Friday, December 29, 2017

DNFs worth mentioning

I started a couple of books this month that I ended up putting down, but I still want to talk about them.

The first is Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. My long-term plan has been to read all of Austen's novels, and I've already read three: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey. When my season membership to the American Repertory Theater included tickets to see a stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility I knew I wanted to read it before going. The timing wasn't great, as I was in the midst of Middlemarch when I picked it up and reading two books at once with a similar setting is asking for trouble. As it turns out, I think I would have had trouble with this book even if it were the only book I was reading.

Compared to the other Austen novels I've read, I found it very difficult to glean what was going on and keep all the characters straight. There were a lot of characters, and many were related to each other in tenuous ways that were difficult to remember. The writing felt different too. I was about 2/3 of the way through when I gave up after reading the same couple of pages twice and still struggling to understand them. Austen isn't like reading a contemporary novel, but usually her writing isn't difficult. There were sentences I had to re-read, and could figure out who the "she" was referring to, so I'd go back to the previous paragraph and still not be able to figure it out. Had I just powered through those couple of pages and continued on perhaps it would have gotten better - I'd made it that far without too much trouble, after all - but I just didn't have it in me. The show was in a couple of days and I just didn't want to spend that whole time forcing my way through a book I was no longer enjoying. So set the book aside, went to the show, and maybe I'll pick it up again someday. I think it would have been easier to pick up after seeing how the story played out, but by then I had moved on to other books.

Another book I picked up recently and didn't finish was Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi, which I heard about on the By the Book podcast. (Are you listening to By the Book? You should be.) The premise is that in our smartphone-centered society we are constantly feeding information into our brains and don't give ourselves opportunity to just sit with ourselves and think. Zomorodi posits that it is these times of boredom when we let our minds wander that we are best able to solve problems and come up with new ideas. I am completely on board with this idea. We are so convinced that we should never be idle and must fill every moment with either something productive or catching up on social media that we don't let ourselves ever get bored.

I'm not sure that "boredom" is even exactly the right word, but the way she frames it, it kind of makes sense. When you're not actively engaged in something happening around you, your mind starts occupying itself by wandering and daydreaming and that's the sort of thinking that will lead to great ideas and problem-solving. So I read a few chapters of the book, and it's a pretty short book, but I felt like I was already on board enough that I didn't need to finish. She goes into a lot of science and whatnot, but I really don't need convincing. This is one of those books that that would have been enough for me as just an article.

From listening to the podcast I know that Zomorodi proposes some exercises to put her ideas into practice. Like, putting an app on your phone that will tell you how much time you spend on your phone, then deleting the apps you use most. She also proposes not using your phone while in transit, forcing yourself to watch a pot of water boil to be bored enough to test out her ideas, and taking an afternoon mini-vacation and putting on your out-of-office responder and just staying away from your computer and phone. I've spent a few of my bus commutes recently just sitting and thinking rather than listening to a podcast or audiobook. Although I won't do this long-term (this is my time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks and I'm not going to give them up) it was nice to test it out. I already use my dog-walking time in this way - Petri was initially rather difficult to walk so I never got in the habit of doing anything else while walking her, and I've kept it up just because I think it's nice to pay attention to the dog you're walking, and I've found it to be a nice meditative transition from my work day to my evening. At work I often need to do some thinking but definitely don't want to appear like I'm not doing anything. I have occasional opportunities that are great for this - recently I was working on signage for a display, which involved cutting out hand-drawn letters and glueing them to a foam board (ironically, the display is on self-help books) and I spent a great deal of that time thinking about the upcoming hiring process for a new librarian in my department and coming up with good interview questions.

So although I didn't finish reading this book, I have been making a point to make sure that I have some "thinking time" every day, and I'll try not to worry about appearing that I'm slacking off or being idle. It's a great idea that I think more of us would benefit from putting into practice!

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