BY: Karin Schimke
I am often asked when I get time to read so much. Do I have more leisure time than other people? I don’t think so. It took me a while to figure out the answer to this question, but I have now: I think I get through more books than other people because I don’t have a television. Or rather, I do have one, but it’s not hooked up and is only used for watching DVDs. Watching a television screen is an event for me.
How humans use their free time is not a new area of thought though: important people have been thinking about it for centuries: Aristotle; the influential British economist John Maynard Keynes; the “idling” philosopher Bertrand Russell and, more recently, adherents of the thoroughly modern Slow Movement which advocates slowness in everything, from work to food to urban design.
My favourite book on questions around time, work and leisure remains How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, but I’ve also recently read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, factual and well-researched but not as dotty and entertaining as the Hodgkinson.
I’ve been thinking about leisure these past few days as I tallied up that I have “engaged with” (to say “read” would be disingenuous) thirteen books in seven weeks.
Of them, eight are novels, of which four are unfinished but haven’t been shelved. They are Zadie Smith’s NW (just started it) and the audio-book version of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which requires solitude. One novel – The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – got drenched by a leaky water bottle and fell apart, but the movie’s on at the moment and it did a brilliant job of telling the story I already half knew.
My daughter, who reads obsessively has discovered that when she reads aloud in the car she doesn’t get car sick, so I’m also halfway through Robert Muchamore’s Class A, the second in his Cherub series, because she reads while I’m driving.
I seldom read poetry collections once, or beginning to end. One evening in the bath I read only about eight poems, slowly and more than once, from Loftus Marais’ second collection Kry My By Die Gewone Plek Aguur. Last week I read several of Adrienne Rich’s early poems in The Fact Of A Doorframe, a selection from her entire, enormous ouevre.
One non-fiction has been dipped in and out of, a marvellous Afrikaans book called God: Die oorsprong en uiteinde van alles, in which prominent Afrikaners are interviewed by Fritz Gaum, a religious man, and George Claasen, an atheist. The interviewees, who are both robust and sensitive at once, share wonderful personal anecdotes about the course of their spiritual lives have taken. It’s an intelligent, sane and tolerant approach to a thorny subject.
That leaves the The Art Book, a thing which weighs so much it works best on the floor, where I’ve paged through it a number of times. It’s a social book: whoever is around can’t seem to help but be drawn in by the famous art works displayed on each page, and debate often ensues.
My home leisure time is currently – since my brainwave to buy myself the audio book of Anna Karenina – utterly delightful. I put on the book, put my feet up and take up my knitting. In a few weeks’ time I will have finally “read” a book I’ve always wanted to, and I will have a new knee blanket.
I wonder whether multi-tasking your leisure time in this way would win the approval of proponents of the Slow Movement, or whether they would argue that I am still in the high-productivity trap that so afflicts modern life.
At any rate: I can’t say I regret the time that not having a TV gives me. – Schimke is an independent writer, a poet and the editor of the Cape Times books pages.