Reading Slates

In order to focus my longform readings month by month, or at least eliminate my (at this point) chronic favouritisms, I’ve partitioned my intake by category, and limited each category to a single book. These ‘categories’ run the gamut from self-explanatory to, seemingly, exhibitionistic—”nightbooks“, for example. But while some inclusions have been artificially self-imposed (ebooks/ibooks), others—such as “nightbooks”—have formed naturally, stalactite-like, through habit, and hardened with time (perhaps even cosmological intervention). They’re here to stay, in other words. A necessary, if benevolent, evil.

Going forward, my reading slate will be as follows:

  • (1) Fiction (contemporary)
  • (1) Fiction (“classic”)
  • (1) Non-fiction
  • (1) Audiobook
  • (1) Ebook/iBook
  • (1) Nightbook

These allow for some overlap, of course, though here too I’ve imposed artifices: the audiobook and ebook can be fiction or non, but the nightbook cannot be an audiobook or ebook. Fun, isn’t it? As strange as it may sound, there is a math of self-provocation to this—provocation, that is, to not only read but read with equipoise.

It’s not as much a matter of aversions as it is, as I’ve said, favouritisms. Fiction is my main love, and I could, unconstrained from controlled portions, gorge myself on it fatally. At points last year I was reading upwards of twelve novels at a time, the result of which was time and attention spread cloud-thin, and the abandoning (or speed-run) of more than one. Those results pointed, if not to an unhealthy love, then an artless, unbalanced one. All good things can, like water, become a poison given the (in)appropriate level of excess.

While my list contains only two hardfast genres, I’ve spread it across formats and devices to create something of a reading constellation for myself across physical and digital space. I do this already, of course, with books in every habitable corner of both, but the aim now is to make a system or pattern where before there was only a smattering.

We’re often encouraged not to waste any time on what doesn’t interest us, but interest is inherently curious, and just as easily distracted—kaleidoscopically always giving rise to new forms; forms which may at first, and possibly for the rest of our lives, strike us too intimidating to pursue or not nearly enough, not inciting enough our contradictory need to approach the windswept lip of the cliff, the sky roaring past the plane’s open door. (If you’re a mortal, as opposed to celestial, creature, “pitting levity against gravity” isn’t going to prove a worthy replacement for a parachute.)

Certainly, not all curiosities are worth satisfying, and one must at some level be selective so as to avoid the thinness of one’s experience equaling the vastness. The good news is that, by imposing some limit on one’s deepest engagements, one creates openings. Over recent months, I’ve made a point to fill these both novelly and strategically. Sometimes the strategy is one of genre, sometimes format, sometimes time of day (or night). My current reading slate ensures at the very least that I mix fiction with non, and that my reading is not dependent on format but instead independent of it, insofar as it is agnostic on medium for the sake of message, on means for the sake of ends.

If I was apt to lie in this moment, I would say that adding new layers of literary shale has only enriched the quality of my intellectual life and therefore my life in sum. And it has, but not without destabilizing or darkening it at times; an unavoidability given enough time, where it concerns matters of prescience, the question thus whether we confront our ignorances in time or out of it. (We’ll almost surely have to confront them regardless.)

The implied currency of any list, reading or otherwise, is always time; and the intelligent way to spend is never, with time or anything else, all in one place. “To be born again”, you do not, in fact—or even in fiction—”have to die.” You just have to change.

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