J, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and it's been sitting all sleek and beautiful in its monochrome cover by my bed ever since, untouched. I've been dipping in and out of my well-thumbed copy of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, because I am co-teaching a mindfulness course for university students that is based on this. But other than those, my recreational pursuit of the written word has taken a serious blow.
The first culprit for my October book desert was a language learning app. I arrived back from Japan feeling quite thankful that in the ordinary way of things I can communicate without every second phrase being 'thank you' or 'sorry', but also feeling suitably chastened about my foreign language skills. A friend recommended Duolingo, a free app with multiple European languages from Danish to Portuguese, and I took the plunge into brushing up French. I set a goal of twenty minutes a day and the little Duolingo owl sent me encouraging reminders every morning. I liked the app, too. It was cute and stretching without being impossible and it had a lovely graph of how much I was doing every day. Everyone has an extra twenty minutes in their day just waiting to be filled with French household items, right? Wrong.
|Learning Spanish on Duolingo|
Then it was three weeks later and I was feeling distinctly out of sorts. I had this vague fuzzy itchy sense of lack. I felt surprisingly mournful as I dispatched yet another copy of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch - my book of the year - as a gift to a friend in Cambridge. Moreover, Oxford term-time had kicked in and I was really struggling to find the energy in the evenings to translate French sentences about electric wires and newspapers and cleaning products. I started skipping my Duolingo sessions, but I was still going to sleep feeling slightly unsettled. Then it hit me: I hadn't read a book since the end of September.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. In the same way that the literary world happily waits for a decade in-between the appearance of each novel by Donna Tartt, a hundred pages of the slightly creepy but fascinating Secret History has been almost worth my three weeks of imagination abstinence (just don't remind me how it ends - I last read it when I was thirteen). And now, having learned my lesson, I will pay much closer attention to what gets shelved whenever I try to do something extra - because something always gets shelved, and book abstinence is too high a price to pay.