Aditya Mani Jha
Writers on what people should do if they’re finding it difficult to read during the
Towards the beginning of March, I began to read Into Their Labours, a 1991 omnibus edition made up of three John Berger novels, about the residents of a little Alpine French village and how their families eventually found their way to the city. It is an ambitious, elegiac volume about love, loss and tradition that takes a deep dive into the emotional detritus of migration — it is also over 700 pages. Right around page 150, Delhi along with the rest of India went into lockdown, and I found myself in the middle of a reading slump. Trash TV and classic movies ate into my reading time for about a month. I felt doubly guilty because this was a handsome, hardbound
Even for people far more disciplined than this writer, enforced solitude, anxiety (especially for those with elderly parents) and the general eeriness of life under lockdown has upset reading rhythms. Experienced readers and yes, writers, too, have been forced to improvise — some have taken to hitherto unfamiliar genres while others have returned to childhood favorites.
Sharanya Manivannan, for example, is the author of five books across various genres, including the novel The Queen of Jasmine Country and the poetry collection The Altar of the Only Word. Talking about her reading habits under lockdown,
Crucially, she stresses the importance of setting targets that are small and manageable — if you’re missing your family/friends and are worried about them from afar, you can do without the additional anxiety over not reading enough. “I’d recommend two ways to return to the habit,” Manivannan says. “Firstly, prioritise comfort reads over other ones, and secondly, set some kind of target based on your pace. This could be a book a week, or ten a month. In a time where the sands are shifting under our feet constantly, realistic, low-stakes goals offer a sense of achievement.”
Reading habits are deeply personal and there’s no one-size-fits-all method to beat a reading slump. But there are a few things that readers can be mindful of during a time of severely restricted mobility. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, rereads are just as valid as new territory, and distraction is not a sin — every now and then, there will be days where you’ll tear away from the book after every 20 pages. As actor Vivaan Shah observes, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could even be a blessing in disguise, given the right mindset.
Shah says: “Luckily, in my line of work there’s a lot of waiting — on set, or when you’re travelling to a location. So I was somewhat used to irregular/unpredictable reading patterns. I think in a weird way, it can actually help you meaningfully process what you’ve just read.”
A longtime hardboiled aficionado, Shah is fond of reading the masters of this genre like JimThompson, Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett — he even published a Mumbai-set crime thriller called Living Hell last year. Since March, however, he has been exploring a slightly different world — one peopled by creators like the Strugatsky Brothers (Arkady and Boris), Soviet Russian science fiction writers who collaborated on over 20 novels from the 1950s onwards, including works like Hard to be a God (1964) and
“I’ve been reading science fiction coming from the Eastern Bloc,” Shah says. “At a time like this, a lot of us look at how certain cultures have dealt with collective trauma. Doing this also answers the existential or spiritual questions that come up during a prolonged period of loneliness.”
What I did to beat my own slump had elements of both Manivannan and Shah’s strategies. For two weeks, I read childhood favorites like the Moomin books (a treasure for all ages) and a stash of Tinkle and Chandamama (both children’s magazines) . I also read the masters of the really, really short story (or micro-fiction, if you will):
During the last week of May, I picked up Into the Labours again, and it was worth the wait.
At a time like this, a lot of us look at how certain cultures have dealt with collective trauma
–Vivaan Shah, actor
Our article titled ‘
Consuming the arts’, which appeared on July 11 in the ‘You’ section, incorrectly mentioned Bruce Guthrie as the Head of NCPA. Guthrie is the Head of Theatre and Film for the NCPA. We regret the error.