Binges and Balance

An alternative title for this Blog was “The Balanced Blog”, to reflect how often I find myself balanced between two views, or two extremes of behaviour. I was born on the day of the autumnal equinox and have often said (not entirely seriously) that that is why I’m well balanced. I can’t recommend it though. The older I get the more it seems that people who take a clear position, even without much evidence to support it, seem less troubled by doubt or inaction than those of us who weigh things up. Balance might well be over-rated. There’s a reason why “sitting on the fence” is used pejoratively rather than as a compliment. Both “BalancedBlog” and “TheBalancedBlog” were unavailable on WordPress, and I was happy to call this site The Compartments, for reasons outlined here.

In future posts I plan to ponder and write more about balance, but first a reflection on binges, which could be viewed as unbalanced ways of doing things. Binge drinking is an unbalanced approach to drinking. Binge eating is an unbalanced approach to food. I have never been prone to binges with food or drink. I have been drunk (many times) and have eaten too much (not so many times) but wouldn’t regard either of these as bingeing. If I get drunk it’s from having too much beer or champagne with friends, not from necking back as much tequila or Jagermeister as possible in Happy Hour. Getting drunk has been the consequence of hanging out with people, not the purpose of it. If the aim were simply to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible I could stay at home and do it quicker and cheaper.

But I have described my approach to other things – especially watching movies, and reading – as prone to bingeing. The Film Festivals that I attended regularly in the 1980s as part of my own work for a Film Festival were film binges: 50 movies or more over the course of 10 days. It’s left me unable to have a more balanced approach to cinema-going. Yesterday I went to see “The Revenant” (winner of this year’s Oscars for Best Director and Best Actor). It’s part of my “Oscars Project” (to see every movie that has won one of the main Academy Awards), and I could quite easily have seen the other major winners today. They are “Spotlight”, “Room”, “Bridge of Spies” and “The Danish Girl”, with a total running time of under nine hours. Four movies in a day is a pretty easy day in Film Festival world.

When going through reading binges I don’t want to do much else. My usual answer to the question “What are you reading right now?” is “Nothing”, because my preference when reading a book is to finish it as quickly as possible, and not talk about it until it is finished. When engrossed in a book I am unlikely to seek out conversations with anyone, any more than I would pause a movie half-way through and start talking about it. In one of last week’s posts I mentioned binge-reading in Spain in the summer of 1981, so my imbalanced approach to reading goes back a long way. I appreciate that if you find the time to read just 50 pages a day you will finish a decent-sized book every week, but instinctively I’d rather find 7 hours in one day once a week to read a whole book. It breaks down like a well-balanced working day: a 2-hour session, a break, another 90 minutes, a good break for lunch, and two more sessions of 90 minutes in the afternoon.

There are people I knew at university, and people I have met since, who review books, either as their main job, or in addition to their main job. They read at least four books a week. I know other people who read one or two books a year, and that’s it. I have been through years like that myself. I am balanced between friends who read hundreds of books a year and friends who read almost nothing.

The most balanced approach I have had to reading in recent years was to read (more or less) one Shakespeare play a week, a “project” I wrote about last month. Maybe that approach will work for big works of fiction too. Yesterday I finished “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Booker Prize Winner 2014), sooner than I expected, so perhaps I could use a similar approach for the previous year’s Booker winner (Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”), all 832 pages of it. Let’s see: 50 pages a day, that’s 17 days’ worth of reading. I’ll let you know how it’s gone on 18 March, unless I go on a “Luminaries Binge”, in which case I won’t be posting anything for a while.

UPDATE (20 March 2016)

I did manage to finish “The Luminaries” before 18 March, on Tuesday 8 March. I kept up an average of around 100 pages a day, and moved onto Florian Illies’ “1913”, which I could only read at about 50 pages per day: so many facts, at least four per page, leading to at least a thousand new pieces of information over the course of the book. And for the last six days I have managed to read around 50 pages per day of Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”, Booker Prize winner for 2015. At this rate I’ll finish it in about a week, and, once again, will have read every Booker Prize winner, or at least my eyes will stayed open and passed over every word of every line on every page.


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