Stuff I Used To Do But Don’t Do Anymore (Or How I’ve Become A Less Interesting Person Over Time): Part 4 – I Read A Book A Week (But Never Dostoyevsky…)

James Proclaims (4)


Here we are then at part 4 of my miniseries on stuff I used to be able to claim I did, but now I don’t really do.

And this one is on reading.

Books that is.

Because I used to read a lot of them and now I don’t.

Although, contrary to the suggestion in the title of this post, I never used to read a book a week. That was a little nod to one of my favourite sit-coms, ‘The Office’ (original UK version, although I am very much a fan of the US version too).

The comment about Dostoyevsky is a nod to the same episode, although it is true that I’ve never read any Dostoyevsky.

Judge me not though, for I can point to a great many worthy authors that I have read, thus proving my intellect. For I have read (and in some cases enjoyed) works by Dickens, Hardy, multiple Brontes, Stendhal, Flaubert, and numerous other authors that appear in the ‘Classics’ section of your local bookshop.

But don’t be too impressed, I’ve also read everything Dan Brown ever wrote, so I’m clearly not averse to an ‘easy read’ either.

In fact, my parents used to joke that I’d read anything I could get my hands on, even a cereal box if there was nothing else available. And in truth I have read some pretty good cereal boxes in my time. The Frosties box of summer 1987 stands out as a particularly good one, although the Coco Pops of autumn 1991 would run it close.

I jest of course, for while these days, as all sensible consumers should, I read the ingredients of cereal boxes to make sure that nothing contained therein is going to slowly kill me over time, I wouldn’t read a cereal box for entertainment purposes. Jars of Marmite on the other hand…

But I digress, for my parents made that observation about my reading habits (or one of them did and I’m not quite sure which of them to blame…) because as a child I did read a lot.

It might make me sound like quite a worthy child but I’m not sure that I was. It was the eighties and there wasn’t really much else to do.

I wasn’t really a sporty child (as I alluded to in this post), I was pretty bad at computer games (not that I had access to any until well into my teens) and it’s not just a clever play on words (or even a clever play on words at all) to say that I was bored by board games. I enjoyed TV of course, but this was back in the days of only four channels so even a visual media junkie like me couldn’t watch it all of the time. Also my parents wouldn’t let me.

So I found a lot of solace in books.

I’m not sure what the first book I ever read on my own was – I recall that a favourite of my very early years was something called ‘Sixpence for Sam’ but I’ve got a strong feeling this is something that my parents read to me, and then possibly with me. It might well have helped me learn to read but I don’t know that I ever read it on my own.

Other titles that stand out from my youngest days would be titles such as ‘Fast Frog’ and ‘Busy Busy World’. And I loved the Mr Men books.

As I moved through my formative years, I moved onto more challenging texts. I recall my primary school having some kind of a ‘book club’ thing where you could (presumably for a discount – although I’m not certain) buy books through the school. It was quite exciting because you’d get given the books during lesson time, which usually made the day a little less dreary (it’ll become apparent, if it hasn’t already, on this blog that I really hated school. It’s quite amazing that I ended up becoming a teacher). I remember the first one of those I ever got – it was called ‘Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Circus Clown’.  I just googled Cam Jansen, while writing this post, and it turns out there was a whole series of Cam Jansen books. But that’s the only one I ever read. It’s a shame I didn’t know there were more – I recall really enjoying that one.

I also read a lot of Enid Blyton. Mostly ‘Famous Five’, but some ‘Secret Seven’ (I never really got into the ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ though – I gave it go but it wasn’t for me). Alongside that I grew up reading Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ stories, CS Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’. I attempted Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ but if I’m honest I never made it past the opening chapters until I was much older and I wanted to read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and a cursory knowledge of the preceding novel seemed like it might add value to the experience (which in fairness it did).

There were other stories that came and went. I recall ‘The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler’ being a favourite, ‘Emile and the Detectives’ another, but mostly it was all about Roald Dahl.

I loved the world of Dahl, and I read most of his books multiple times. Ironically, perhaps, not ‘James and The Giant Peach’, although I think I read it once, but I recall reading ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ followed by ‘Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator’ and then, as soon I’d finished the latter, I picked up the former and proceeded to read both of them again.

Danny the Champion of the World’ got the same treatment, as did ‘The BFG’ and ‘The Witches’. But my absolute favourite was ‘Matilda’, which I still think is probably one of the best books ever written for any one of any age. I haven’t yet seen the musical in London, but it’s really just a matter of time.

I wonder if, looking back at my prepubescent self, I had a little bit of a boyhood crush on the character of Matilda. It would certainly explain my marriage, many years later, to Mrs Proclaims, who was, in her own little way, an unappreciated genius as a child (although, I should emphasise, with a much nicer family and not just because my in-laws might be reading this…).

Along with all the book-reading I also enjoyed comics. Not comic books of the DC and Marvel variety, but the very British comics of The Beano and The Dandy. I preferred The Beano – it had ‘Dennis the Menace’, ‘Rodger the Dodger’, ‘Minnie the Minx’ and (probably my favourites) ‘The Bash Street Kids’. I was less impressed with The Dandy’s ‘Desperate Dan’ but The Dandy did bring the world ‘Bananaman’ and for that I will always be grateful.

As I grew up there was a phase, I’m certain, where I didn’t read as much. Books were forced on me by school and, even if some of them ended up being quite good, I was less inclined to read things I was told to read, but that may have impacted a little on my desire to read other things for pleasure.

Still I transitioned over to literature aimed at adults eventually (not to be confused with ‘adult literature’ of which I’ve read very little). I enjoyed ‘humour mixed with sci-fi and/or fantasy for a while. I really enjoyed the ‘Red Dwarf’ novels having been hooked on the TV show too. From there I discovered Terry Pratchett, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read most of the ‘Discworld’ novels, although he wrote so many I can’t be certain.

When I dropped out of school towards the end of my first attempt at my A-levels, and I had the best part of a year with not much to do, aside from a part-time job in a major high street store, I was almost reading a book a day at one point. I think in 1997 I read something like seventy books. I couldn’t tell you what they all were. I know a lot of them were the afore-mentioned Pratchett, the equally brilliant Douglas Adams and other, lesser examples, of the ‘funny sci-fi/fantasy’ genre, but there were more ‘mainstream’ titles in there too.

Nick Horby’s ‘High Fidelity’ remains one of my favourite novels from that time. I also read a lot of Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks back then. Banks’ ‘The Crow Road’ also stands out as one I’d like to revisit one day

Lying on my parent’s sofa for a year and reading book after book was a form of escapism that helped me to deal with a difficult time in my life.

Reading has oft been a sanctuary for me when the real world gets a bit much to handle. (Just reread that sentence and it looks a bit odd because I currently live in the town of Reading [pronounced redding] which, though perfectly nice, is really no kind of sanctuary at all)

However, during the latter part of my twenties and certainly moving into my thirties it has seemed like an activity I’ve had less and less time in my life for. There have been moments when I’ve rediscovered the joys of the written word, like the time, just after graduating, when Mrs Proclaims and I, having just begun our relationship, were separated by a four-hour train journey. She introduced me to ‘Adrian Mole’ and he kept me company on many of those epic journeys. Or later that same year, after watching Casino Royale in the cinema, when I was inspired to read the original novel, and consequently read every single one of Flemming’s ‘Bond’ books back-to-back.

But sitting here, writing this in mid-March 2017, I can honestly say it’s been a while since I last read a novel. I am still, technically, in the middle of a book I started reading in August, but in truth I don’t think I’ve even picked it up since Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with it. I think, in fact, it’s quite good. But, for whatever reason, I haven’t found the time lately to even pretend I’m going to read it.

I went through a phase of trying to read it before falling asleep, but the work/blog/life balance is currently such that no sooner do I read a paragraph than I’m snoring away, book on my face, like some kind of cumbersome shroud.

I know I’ll find some time, probably during the summer, when I have a much appreciated six weeks away from the obligation to go into work (although it remains a myth that the holidays are entirely ‘work free’ for education professionals, they are certainly a lot lighter than term time and the summer break is the least demanding of all the holidays), to read a few of the books on my shelves. I might even feel the need to purchase a few more. But come September, the next ten-and-a-half month reading hiatus will begin.

It is what it is. Time pressures are unavoidable. It’s all I can do to keep ‘slightly behind’ with the demands of my job some days (I’ve never been ‘on top’ of my work as such) and throw in, an admittedly very part time, Master course, maintaining this blog, and various other demands on my time (some pleasurable, some less so) and it’s not really surprising that I have so little time to read. Admittedly the undemanding nature of Netflix and other such media is a contributory factor. There are just so many boxsets I want to watch and watching them is so easy. Even a Dan Brown novel takes more effort than watching an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ and if you haven’t watched the latest show, how are you supposed to talk to people?

I mean who talks about books?

I’m being facetious – quite a lot of people clearly do talk about books and indeed sometimes friends and family do deign to recommend a novel to me that I might enjoy from time-to-time.

And I’m still pretty happy to read anything by anyone. Except ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. I don’t think that’s aimed at me. Also Mrs Proclaims read it and said it was one of the worst things she’d ever read (and being a genuine intellectual and academic she does read some absolute rubbish during her downtime). Admittedly she still finished it. But she hasn’t read any of the sequels yet which is proof enough that I wouldn’t enjoy it.

I’m certain I’ll get back to a time when I read regularly again. It seems barely conceivable to me that I won’t.

But for the time being it remains something that appears on my CV, that I don’t currently do.

Out of all the ‘stuff I used to do but don’t do any more’ it’s the one absent pastime that I miss the most.

A list of stuff I’ve read that you should know about:

Favourite book of all time Hard to pick one, but the book that most made me question my own credentials as a potential author was the epic and genre-defying ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke. There are others that leap ahead of it from time-to-time but it’s always the first one to come to mind when I try to think of my favourite.
Book that I almost gave up on that I’m really glad I didn’t Captain Correlli’s Mandolin’. Totally brilliant but what’s going on with the first hundred pages?
Book I didn’t give up on that I absolutely wish I had A book called ‘Atlantis’ by some bloke called David Gibbins. Actually made me appreciate the narrative ‘talent’ of Dan Brown. Seriously awful and actually got worse as it went on. A quick internet search reveals I’m far from the only person who thought this, although it hasn’t stopped Gibbins from churning out a whole series of novels with the same leading character (this was the first). Judging by the Amazon reviews, he might have improved a little over time, but I will never darken my bookshelf with another title of his. I implore you to never read anything this man has written, although maybe you should just to know how truly bad this was.
Most impressive book I’ve ever read (from an intellectual perspective) The full unabridged version of ‘Clarissa’ by Samuel Richardson. Not to be confused with the 90s TV show ‘Clarissa Explains It All’, this is 1500 pages and nearly a million words of eighteen-century tragedy. I read it in a week. I did literally nothing else that week.
Least impressive book I’ve ever read (from an intellectual perspective) Probably ‘Six Pence for Sam’ if I’m being honest, but ‘The Da Vinci Code’ comes a close second.
Favourite Children’s Book of all time Sorry JK Rowling, maybe it’s because I discovered Harry Potter as an adult, but Roald Dahl will always be the king of kid-lit and therefore ‘Matilda’ is the greatest of all the children’s books.

  27 comments for “Stuff I Used To Do But Don’t Do Anymore (Or How I’ve Become A Less Interesting Person Over Time): Part 4 – I Read A Book A Week (But Never Dostoyevsky…)

  1. March 20, 2017 at 12:39 am

    Interesting! May I ask if there are there any other reasons you are no longer reading books besides a lack of time these days? I’ve quit reading books myself, although I’m kind of in denial about it. That is, I now and then buy a book thinking I will turn it all around and begin reading again. Never do, though.

    Like you, I used to read for hours and hours each week. But in my case, I don’t know why I stopped, except to say that I suspect it had something to do with the internet. You see, there’s always something interesting to be explored online, and I think that competes with reading a book offline for me.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 12:43 am

      Thanks and yeah the internet is definitely a contributing factor to all this. I love reading stuff online (other blogs, film reviews, various ways to self improve that all end up requiring more effort than I’d like…). None of it compares to reading a good book but it’s all much easier and quicker to access…


    March 20, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Jars of Marmite on the other hand… This part killed me. Lol
    I feel you on this. Books are the one thing I miss having time for. Although, I’ve slowly stated making conscious efforts to actually use my library membership a lot more often than not. Even with the abundance of information the internet has that’s only one click away, there’s always a void only books can fill. That is for a real huge fan of books, at least. This was a great post. Good day to you. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 5:02 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it and you’re right, the internet is brilliant but there’s very little, in the end, that can replace the joys of a good book. Or even an ‘OK’ book for that matter…

      Liked by 1 person

        March 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

        Couldn’t agree more

        Liked by 1 person

  3. March 20, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Sorry to hear that you’ve given up on books. I’ve read the Rumpole of the Bailey series a few times, but then being an aged person, I have a lot of time for reading & a friend of mine keeps giving me books. I also read the Beano & Dandy and of course Mad Magizine which is no longer about. I so miss Alfred E Neuman!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      I remember Mad! I think I had a card game based on it when I was a kid. It was really funny!


  4. March 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    I too enjoy a good cereal box read at times. As a child I read many, many series but I was a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie and The Babysitters Club. My brain candy these days comes in the from of Janet Evanovich’s book (One for the Money and its successors). As an educator and parent, it is sooooo hard to find time for leisure reading. It’s ok though because we are busy doing other “cool” things. Thank you for your insights.


  5. March 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I feel like you have to pencil time into your schedule for such things. If not, it won’t get done. I’m the same if I read before bed, asleep in two seconds.

    A thumbs up for Dahl too. I distinctly remember my mum reading Boy and Going Solo to us. Need to reread them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Those two I didn’t read as a kid but people are always telling me I missed out. I really do need to find time to rectify that!


  6. March 20, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    I wrote a post today about reading but decided not to post it because it was a bit of a downer. What are the chances? Of all the blog topics on all the blogs…

    I also used to read voraciously. At one point I was reading more than one book a week. My parents would despair because Santa would bring me a leaning-tower-of-Pisa of books and I would fly through them in the space of a month. My dad took to flicking between the pages after a while and shooting random questions at me because he couldn’t believe I was actually reading them that fast.

    I must have speedy eyeballs or something.

    Anyway, we grew up with many of the same books! George, Dick, Julian, Anne and Timmy the dog were my crew! My mom banned me from borrowing Enid Blyton books from the library and I would have to smuggle them out under my coat. Don’t ask me why; my mother’s actions rarely make sense.

    I definitely used to use stories as an escape; the more time I spent inside a book, the less I had to engage with the outside world. Maybe now that I’m older and happier I don’t feel that need to disappear into novels like I used to, and I think that’s why my rate of reading has slowed dramatically. I’m reading Dear Mr. M at the moment and in the past I would have sped through it without putting it down more than once, but now I find myself abandoning it for weeks at a time… It’s strange.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      I’d love to imagine that the sense of contentment that’s come with age is the reason I need to read less, but I’m fairly sure it’s just my devotion to watching boxsets and the an ever decreasing attention span. Although I’ve now looked up ‘Dear Mr M’ and it’s made it to my list of books I need to read. which is going to be really hard given that I never have time to read. So I’ll buy it and it’ll sit on my bookshelf forever. It’s lamentable really. But what can I do? Stop watching TV?

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

        Obviously not! Don’t talk CRAZY James!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. March 20, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I feel exactly the same – I used to spend hours, staying up until the early hours, just to finish a book I was hooked on. Fantasy and sci-fi were always my favourites and seems we read similar books as children. Although Dahl is someone I’ve only appreciated since becoming a teacher and the Hobbit I read after getting it for my 8th birthday (and it remains one of my favourites). Hated LotR though (not the films!)
    Also loved Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and read a lot of Piers Anthony (very Pratchett) books in my teens, early twenties. Yet I’ve only just jumped on the bandwagon and fallen in love with Discworld.
    I got a Kindle at Christmas after swearing I’d never get one because I like the smell and feel of books. But can honestly say I’ve read a lot more since using it (that may only be three books so far this year but one a month is a massive improvement on my three in total last year!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      Must admit that the LotR films do manage to capture all the best bits of the books without the self-indulgent rambling bits (and Tom Bombadil), but I still enjoyed the books once I got into them. I’m tempted by a Kindle, I think it would encourage me to read more often, but there is something about holding a book that feels comforting in its own right. Then again, I feel I’m more likely to forgive bad writing in a book than I would be on a device so maybe that’s actually incentive to get on the Kindle bandwagon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm

        It’s worth giving one a go. I like that I can turn a page with a single tap and eat my lunch with the other hand (as lunchtimes seem to be my only time to read)!

        Liked by 1 person

      • March 20, 2017 at 9:48 pm

        That does sound convenient

        Liked by 1 person

  8. March 20, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    I have to agree to that ‘the box set’ has been the demise of books for me. That’s right, Endless hours spent in my pants watching crime fighting karate ninja serial killers has made me hang my reading hat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 20, 2017 at 10:15 pm

      To be fair that does sound like a great show…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. March 21, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    I’m torn between crippling sorrow that you’re not reading enough books at the moment and inexplicable joy that you mentioned The Crow Road. I might have to resolve my conflict by re-reading that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 22, 2017 at 1:47 am

      Definitely re-read The Crow Road – l can’t imagine a better use of anyone’s time than that

      Liked by 1 person

  10. April 3, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Great post James. Maybe Mrs proclaims will tie you down sometime to read 50 shades, if you ever whip up the enthusiasm!

    Liked by 1 person

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