On being unable to read any more

AUGUST 25 03

I think I may be entering a period of my life where I no longer read. Nietzsche gave up reading and just wrote. It's a strange thing for me, given that most of my life I have been an insatiable reader of books. Maybe I've read enough.

I've certainly noticed that my reading has considerably declined. First there was a transition. I noticed that most of my reading at one point was no longer interesting books, novels and books about ideas, well-written books, but rather technical manuals, computer books, and websites. Now I hardly read computer books any more either, just a quick flick to ascertain either that I know everything in it already or I don't care to know what is in it. Certainly these days I find many computer books are dedicated to expounding at great length things I have taught myself in half-an-hour's experimentation. Now even websites are making my eyes glaze over. But the damage is done: I no longer read books, real books, good books.

I may well become a person who no longer reads, who only writes. I gave up watching television 10 years ago, when I chucked it in the bin. I listen to the radio occasionally. Magazines, even good ones, I no longer read. I get sent Fortean Times every month, I have a quick flick but mostly it just piles up. Newspapers I scan the headlines of in newsagents if there is a story that has caught my attention. I can't remember the last time I bought a book. Several times in the past 6 months, when going into town to meet friends, I have said to myself I'll go in a bit earlier to check out the latest occult and Daoist books in Watkins, but I just dawdle around the house drinking tea in my dressing gown until late and then think, ah bugger it, what does it matter, I'll head straight in to the meet. So even browsing in bookshops has become something of a rarity for me. Bookshops I couldn't pass without going in to check out the secondhand department or fiction I hardly glance at as I stride past now.

On the one hand, a sorry state of affairs. On the other, so what? Nietzsche, as I said, gave up reading books, and no-one could say he was not a literary man. If I do not read another book until I am 70 I will still have read fifty times as many books as most people by the time they reach that age.

Probably the internet has been responsible for this decline in my interest in books, and thankfully even that I am getting tired of now, except as a directory and encyclopaedia. Yet in spite of the internet and my feeling that people in general read fewer books than they used to, bookshops seem to have many more books in them than 20 years ago. Much more crap, certainly, many more books that are better described as products than as books. But you can still get the great classics, on cheap paper with unattractive bindings. The worse the content of a book, the better its production values, it often seems. And the very best books simply aren't in bookshops any more, they're 'special order', or long out-of-print.

As for the web, I tire of the mindless daily trudge through sites I have bookmarked as being of some interest to me.

Over the years I dispensed with my large library of occult books, re-buying some that I needed to re-read for KAOS 14, but these volumes on Enochian magick and demonology sitting on my shelves now just strike me as so much drivel, much as they did before a spike of consciousness revealed some interest in them that can be put down to delusion as much as insight. Even KAOS 14 itself, it is not the occult content that interests me any more, but rather the sheer testament it represents to obsessive pursuit of the mindbogglingly obscure. Yet people still email me saying they find it of interest. Most however concede they don't understand it, claiming beginner status or suchlike. The most that I can claim perhaps is that I did understand it, and even if I still understand it – I may do, if I put my mind to it – I can't say as I wouldn't prefer to just lie on a beach and float into a warm oblivious sleep. What use knowledge in a world of shallow-minded fools? You climb the mountains and then forget about them.

A drinking friend has recently become a Muslim, and so no longer drinks. Instead he lives his life by the Koran, and when out and about looks for secluded places like parks to meet his prayer schedule much as he used to look for places to piss. It is not so much this that I cannot identify with, as the idea of actually reading a book that big let alone living my life by it. Yet I can remember when I lived my life by an entire library of Buddhist books, and was fully intent on entering a Zen monastery. I fear I no longer will be living my life by books. Even the Yijing, the only book that has truly remained by my side, it is probably time to throw away, having learnt most of what it can teach me. The rest I can probably pick up by staring at the patterns in the dust.