Insider Magazine – Column 1

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I wrote my first ever column for a newspaper this week, in the Irish Independent’s Insider Magazine.

If you missed getting a copy, here it is in all its shiny, stylised glory…

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The first question someone asks you when you tell them that you’re trying to read a hundred books in 2014 is “are you a mental case?” closely followed by “is it a bet?”, “what’s your problem?”, “are you a mental case?” again and then usually settling on “why?”

Last year I set myself the task of reading a book a week as a single, unbreakable New Year’s resolution. One I might actually stick to for once. I did it with time to spare so this year I thought I’d up the ante a bit. That’s the flip answer.

The real one is about me reading voraciously ever since I was a kid. I like stuff, knowledge, things, stories, words, information. It’s who I have always been. I didn’t have a lot of friends round where I lived growing up and I spent a lot of my time by myself. Please restrain your applause for the world’s smallest orchestra playing just for me as they will be performing at the end of this piece.

I came from the sort of world where the term “bookworm” was used usually like a blunt weapon but I was lucky enough to have indulgent parents and grandparents who fed my habit and I spent almost every Saturday in Easons coming home with a stack of comics, Famous Fives or Hardy Brothers. If you’re Mr. Eason and you’re reading this, I probably put at least one of your kids through college. You and the guy who invented Panini football stickers.

When I got older I discovered science-fiction in a huge way, that and comics that became less Superman, more Watchmen got me all the way to the gates of UCD. At that stage I still wasn’t really great with people (plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose) and I was so socially stunted I thought the Freshers Ball was an actual ball. I turned up sober in a suit and tie, and left 20 minutes later. It was my one and only time in the student bar.

My reading tastes had broadened out to “anything on paper” particularly stuff in a foreign language that made me look more attractive to girls. Solzhenitsin, Cocteau, Kundera, anything. Admittedly that meant I read relatively few texts on my course and not graduating, but that’s part of a lifelong aversion to authority more than anything else.

Discovering a social life with a vengeance in my 20s made me stumble, so by the time I was in my 30s I was that guy who would almost have a panic attack every time he went into a bookstore – there were so many great new books coming out that I wanted to read and I was never, ever going to be able to read a fraction of them.

Then I turned 40.

The second question someone asks when you tell them that you’re trying to read a hundred books in 2014 is usually much simpler, and is “how?” People are fascinated to know how you’re reading 2 books a week while still maintaining a full-time job, a marriage and your personal hygiene. They see it as if it’s akin to pulling a LUAS out of a laptop bag. That I can’t do, but I do have a few card tricks.

For most people TV is the great sucker up of time, the shiny screen that with a single switch makes 6 hours of Come Dine With Me seem like a positive use of time for an intelligent adult with a limited lifespan.

So, for us, some nights the TV doesn’t go on until after 9, some nights not at all. We read instead and then I usually read for a half hour in bed or until my eyes start to seal themselves shut in protest. I never said the path to 100 reads was going to be easy, did I?

Honestly, try it. You’d be surprised the amount of stuff you record on your Sky box that when you go to play catch up on the following day you find falls into the newly created category of “meh I don’t think I’ll be arsed, actually”. You even might get to my stage where you resent anything that gets in the way of your reading. Like working. Or eating. Or writing this article.

Then, hardest of all for humans in the 21st century, is putting your phone away. I’m almost never online from the time I leave the office until I come back in again in the morning. I spend all day using it at work so I need to detox. I put the phone on a shelf and switch off every noise except for texts and calls. You can’t get lost in a decent story if your brother-in-law is pinging you every 5 minutes asking you to join him in Pepper Panic Saga.

On top of that I started reviewing everything I wrote on my blog. Nothing keeps you more honest than everyone you know and thousands of others keeping an eye on your progress ready to cheer when you fail miserably.

A friend said to me “if you keep this up, you’ll have read my ‘1,000 Books To Read Before You Die” in less than 10 years!” That’s the plan.

To paraphrase that ancient saying, you’re never going to breathe your last breath on your deathbed saying “I wish I’d watched checked Facebook more often…”

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