Musings from the Sofa asks, “does anyone still feel that there are books they ought to read for any reason (beyond work or study)?” My answer is, well, sort of. I find the question hard to answer because I get stuck on the word “ought.” There are multiple senses of the word “ought,” right? It could mean that I ought to read something, but boy it feels like a chore and I’d rather not. In that case, I don’t read things I feel I ought to. But it could also mean there are books I ought to read because they sound like great books and I might like them or I might hate them, but either way they seem worth a try. These books carry a feeling of obligation too, but also some possibility, and in this case, I do read books I feel I ought to.
But the bigger problem for me with this question is that my feelings about obligation reading and fun reading change, and sometimes they change quickly. There are books that feel like a fun read one day and an obligation read the next, and they might at some later point feel like a fun read once again. These shifts don’t always have to do with the book itself, but are sometimes about how I’m feeling about books or life or work or all of them combined. For example, I like reading multiple books at once — I’m usually in the middle of four or five — and I tend to add to the pile, sometimes getting up to six or seven, during the summer or during winter break. And then the semester hits, and all that reading that felt like so much fun a while back all the sudden now feels like an obligation. So that long classic I was enjoying during a more leisurely time all the sudden seems a little too much like work. I still want to read the book, but it’s become less fun.
Or I’ll pick up a book like Gaddis’s The Recognitions all excited about it and eager to challenge myself with a long difficult novel, and I’ll do fine for a while, and then the sense of newness will wear away and the book will take a turn into some bizarre territory, and I still want to finish the book, but it now requires a little more effort to pick it up than it used to. It begins to feel a tiny bit like a chore.
The problem is that I love challenges in some moods and don’t in others, and this problem is compounded by the fact that I’m a slow reader (and by the fact that I read multiple books at once so it takes me longer to get through each one) so once I begin something I’ve devoted myself to that book for a decent amount of time.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed a strong sense of my own changeability, the way my moods and feelings and desires are constantly in flux, so I have more and more trouble settling on what my actual opinions are. Ask me a question and the answer you’ll get kind of depends on when you ask. I don’t mind feeling this way, really; it’s just a little inconvenient at times. I never know what I’m going to want to read tomorrow, or even an hour from now.