On making a reading list
It is a rather strange time for me to work on my reading lists, but reading list is a strange thing for me to work on. If anything, in a time like this when my priorities are changing, a reading list is a great place to start.
I consider it my strength that I have many interests. My mind seeks patterns, across topics and contexts, and my flow moments are those when I stumble upon similarities across contexts. This makes me a bad conversationalist and my skipping from one thing to another often exasperate others who are more disciplined and discipline-bound. But my big professional successes so far came from the ideas that seeped through boundaries of practice.
However, this is the reason I am always reading multiple different types of books together. It is not unusual for me to read a novel in the morning, some philosophy in the afternoon, be knee-deep in business early evening while taking history to bed, and equally enjoy all of them. I don't use bookmarks often (or I have less bookmarks than the books) and have to remember page numbers or paragraphs to pick up from where I left off, and I do this quite easily. I don't do this as a game, but just as my interest wanders, but I am sometimes thankful to my memory as it serves me well in time of need.
And, among all these, I search for pleasure and pattern. Usually most reading is dull, pages after pages of information (particularly the business books bore me), but there are moments when patterns pop up right in front of my eyes, taking me down to connect the dots and imagine forward. Those are the most beautiful moments which justify all my toiling around among the thousands of books. I have become a social recluse, I recognise: born introvert, I have done very little to make myself attractive in a world obsessed with physical appearance. And all that, for those little orgasmic moments when ideas come to me, firing my commercially bored brain just a little.
So in a way, my reading habits are very much like intellectual philandering, in keeping with the secret bohemian in me. When I say that I shall rather live in Paris wasting away in an attic experimenting with living while writing poetry for that cruelly insensitive French girl who doesn't really care about me, I am really talking about my reading. Therefore, this sudden urge to return to a reading list, just like my life in London lived without a surprise, should be a surprising thing in itself.
Partly this is my belief that I need to get into serious reading. My PhD dreams suspended yet again, this time on account of imminent life altering changes facing me, I have this remorse of never 'doing anything useful'. Caged in a corner, I am hoping to get some mastery of some topic by carefully undergoing self education. I don't know the topic yet, though Chantel Prat's charming 'The neuroscience of you' has won me over to neuroscience for the moment. It is not far off from the topic of personal transformation and change, a book I once promised to write (in collaboration). But while that collaboration is now dead and the topic is stale, such an idea of making something useful of my reading isn't.
But this is perhaps slightly specific too, because I am looking for peace. My intellectual life has been wrecked in the last few months, as my self confidence dwindled, my trust was broken and the life I was carefully building fell apart. I am almost at that point where I can't go on living the way I have done so far and something got to give. The rude awakening of how I am perceived because of my physical appearance got me back into some attention to exercises and diet, though I have not been motivated enough to sacrifice my hours of reading to gyms. But I know that I have got stuck into a nerd stereotype! All my life, I have tried to break stereotypes and tried to do things people never expected of me. Therefore, I am trying not to be a nerd buried in books. Strangely enough, that is why I need a reading list!
That is oxymoronic, of course, but imagine me to be that wanderer who looked for that noble love all his life but when he found it, he realised that he is covered by dust and grime of a thousand year walk and he is no longer visible from under it. The quest, therefore, did not end, but dissipated in a form of melodrama, where the Knight is too old and too infirm to realise the quest and needs to be redeemed differently. Perhaps that redemption for me is through a new search, that recognise the futility of the previous one and is built around finding a path rather than discovering a pattern. I am too fragile to keep searching and would rather surrender to a master, no man but perhaps an organised body of knowledge. I have long believed that the truth is multi-faced and I should not act like a blind man visiting an elephant. However, after attempting the best I could, I have come to accept the limitations of my field of vision and know that I can't see everything: I have to perhaps know the elephant through its tusk or trunk or whatever my fate stumbles me upon. Hence, I am looking to narrow my gaze and discipline my mind.
So I shall write more when I end up choosing a subject and making a reading list. But it is still perhaps the artist in the attic in me, just having a sober day, a day of acknowledgement of being a nobody and starting from scratch again.