(Copyright: Hironori Akutagawa)
From time to time I indulge in the guilty pleasure of reading 'women's magazines.' I developed the addiction whilst working in a call centre. There was a lot of down time on the shifts I work on and a lack of admin work to process. Colleagues used to bring in magazines that included stories of the 'I had sex with my mother's brother's sister in law's dog' or 'I force feed men cake for money!' ilk. I felt like I was part of a reading circle; we'd take turns reading out stories and shriek 'I can't believe someone did that!'
The habit continued after I left my job. I'd buy the cheap and nasty magazines to consume whilst I was on my lunch breaks. As time went on I realised how miserable some of these magazines were making me. The publications aimed at my then age group (18 – 25) could be especially despressing. They made me wonder if I should be more interested in fashion, make up, celebrities and sex. Was I boring for preferring staying in on a Saturday night once I hit my early twenties? Should I be spending more money on eyeliner?
Last year I decided to ditch those magazines. Occasionally I would pick up a glossy, high end magazine such as Company or, the good old favourite, Cosmopolitan. Then I would start feeling miserable again ('I'm 25 and still a student. Am I failure?!') so I would stop buying the magazines.
Then I spotted Psychologies on the news stands last summer. I was heading off to Prague for a mini break and could not resist W H Smith in the departure lounge. The articles looked interesting – they appeared to be about improving physical and mental wellbeing, not which new crappy handbag you should buy. I try not to buy Psychologies every month but I've been travelling around for work. Once again, I could hear the siren call of the magazine stands.
This month, Psychologies had “pancake people” as their word(s) of the month. I read the definition and I felt myself identifying with the words. The emphasis is my own:
These are people who read widely but not in depth. They can tell you about everything – the latest films, the next big fitness craze or the subject of last week's Prime Minister's Questions. But ask them to explain any of these in detail and they struggle to find an answer.
I do have a reputation as a bit of a 'know it all' amongst my friends. As I read I pick up tid bits of information and tuck them away for later. However I am also a 'scanner' which means I can read fast but I don't always take everything in. Do not confuse this with speed reading: that is a useful technique and a skill to be admired. As I read the article, in depth for once, I realised that I was a pancake person. Sometimes I can struggle to recall events that happened in works of fiction, even though I remember reading the books. This perhaps does not matter as much when reading fiction but it can impact on my personal study.
The article ends with
It's OK to be interested in different topics, but try picking a few that really interest you and read around them.
And that's my problem. I'm interested in so many topics: feminism, sociology, history of the world, politics, easy economics, cooking, veganism, animal rights, media representations, information rights, creative writing, poetry, most 2.0s you can shake a stick at, films, pop art, the changing status of China, North Korea, zines, graphic novels, spoken word art, Scottish nationalism... and that's a list that I came up with after just five minutes! Furthermore, I know that I don't have a deep knowledge of any of those topics above. I can bluff my way through feminism, sociology and certain eras in history. I could tell you my method of draining tofu, why I don't eat eggs or how much I love the pop art exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art. However ask me to explain in detail the pop art movement and I'd be stuck, rattling around Elizabeth Taylor and tins of tomato soup.
The next question is: what topic(s) do I choose? That's something I'll need to ponder on and, hopefully, reflect by my reading choices.
Are you a 'pancake person'? Leave a comment below.