If you are a PhD student, or someone blessed with the opportunity to work on a long term, ALL-TIME-CONSUMING project, that you don’t get paid much for, you may find that you have somehow re-prioritized activities that you did daily or weekly down to the bottom of the pile. For me one of the biggest things I have ‘given up’ is reading fiction. I didn’t mean for it to happen; somehow each time I sat down to a book in the evening when I got home, I felt that I shouldn’t do it.
I felt like I should be reading papers (related to my research). Or brushing up on my lack of programming skills. Or working on some other aspect of my PhD project.
Yet I managed to fit in a good fitness regimen – training for soccer twice a week, playing up to two games each week, going to the gym, running. Your physical health must not suffer during such a stressful time as a PhD! And a social life – I kept that going too. But for some reason, in the hours on my own, I had replaced reading fiction time, with wasted time online and procrastination.
At the end of 2011 I decided enough is enough (had barely read anything since the start of 2009, when I started as a PhD student)! I read the latest book reviews in the weekend paper and one title caught my eye: 1Q84, Haruki Murakami. Not 1984, George Orwell. My interest was piqued immediately. I had read and reread and absolutely loved 1984. I had also recently seen the film ‘Norwegian Wood’,adapted to screen from the book written by Haruki Murakami.
I was intrigued by the outline of the plot. The book is long. About 1000 pages. It has several interesting elements: an oppressive spiritual cult, disparity of the perception of time, a parallel time (the year 1Q84 as opposed to 1984), a female heroin who is a stealth assassin, the yearning for a long lost unrequited love, a world where the narrator suddenly notices that there are now two moons up in the sky. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Is it a thriller? It is certainly high concept, but fits into neither genre.
You will probably find it in the ‘Literature’ section of your bookstore. Why? The way it is written: Murakami pains over every small detail – the music playing in the background and its significance to the character, the taste of the food at the table, the smell of the air about you, the feeling of the clothes you wear, the innuendos and subtexts of a conversation with another character: each is described in minute detail. It would have been enough to have been written as a Thriller. But that is not Murukami’s style. And that is also what makes it so sumptuous.
Two moons: this conjures up an image from the film ‘Melancholia’ (released 2011), where another planet is hurtling towards the earth, but appears harmlessly and beautifully in the sky.
Anyway, back to my point. The book is long – but not frustratingly so, it is a pleasure to read. But six months has passed and I am only 650 out of 1000 pages through! At this rate I am not sure what will take longer – finishing my PhD, or finishing the book. In a way, I thought that buy buying and reading the book, I would take up an activity I did on a daily basis once again.
This was not the right book for ‘getting back into reading’. The book is too bulky to carry about in my handbag, or in my backpack (amongst my laptop and other items), to make it worthy of carrying in the chance that I’ll be caught waiting somewhere with dead-time (i.e. at a bus stop, before an appointment, etc). I guess this is where I should almost give in to purchasing an e-book reader. I’m at a loss. I can’t just start another book, because I’m too far in.
So here I am, six months later, I still haven’t quite been able to take on the habit of reading fiction. But if anyone asks, I tell them I’m reading a book by Haruki Murakami called 1Q84.