Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Summer and 'Easy Reading': Why Change Books through the Seasons?

My Thoughts on All Things in the Creative World
Every Wednesday

This weekend saw the longest day of the year and the official beginning of summer. And it's nowadays when thousands of families get ready for their holidays. They will flock to the seaside, lay down their towels on the sand, and pull out a book.

Many of those books will be 'light reads'. Speaking mainly for women, the ones I've usually seen in the hands of tourists are chic-flick style; rom coms dominated by a Mary Sue. They are not heavy or meaty; their underlying goal isn't to act as food for thought or transport you to another place. After all, on holiday, odds are you're probably in another place which you don't want to escape from! Instead, they are mainly there to pass the time and get a few giggles out of their reader. They don't demand anything of us or expect us to become as invested as maybe we would do with, for example, Lord of the Rings.

I say this somewhat sarcastically, since I first read Fellowship of the Ring whilst beside a pool in Greece. But why the sarcasm?

Personally, I think it's because our reading habits fall in with something a lot more primal: our survival skills.

Since antiquity, humankind has lived with and understood nature well enough to structure our cultures around it. In many civilisations, this was expressed in the form of acknowledging the seasons. Spring was the time of new growth and the birth of animals; autumn was the time of the harvest and preparation for the cold days ahead. Indeed, many religions honour these changing times and their associations in their holidays. And even today, with all our modern conveniences, we are still ruled by and surrounded by nature. Just like we still hold the fight or flight reaction from the days of our ancestors, so too are we aware of the seasons.

For us modern people, summer has kept a lot of its original basic associations. Strip away the barbeques and sprinklers and you find this is the time of year when many feel we can finally relax. The days seem endless, the heat is delicious, kids are off school and everyone can be together. Millennia ago, it was the breath of fresh air when weather-related danger was less likely to strike, so people could allow themselves to enjoy this time before preparing for the long dark winter.

Even though we no longer rely as heavily on nature as our ancestors would have, the sensibility remains. This is, of course, the time when we are most likely to switch off and go on our holidays. We still allow ourselves to relax in the sunshine. And like nobody wanted to spend this time working hard for the harvest, why burden your mind with a heavy story?

I know reading books and bringing in food from the fields is different, but our culture has ensured their appearances share a common psychological root. There is a time and place for everything to ensure wellbeing and, in the most primal part of our brain, survival.

In a sense, the light summer reads you can commonly find is the flipside of the coin to winter. Even though many people dislike the cold season, it is also Christmas time: arguably a calendar point even more important than summer. But this was not always so. Winter was an ominous time, full of darkness and danger, when people would pray for the sun's return and the promise of summer.

The way our ancestors stockpiled their food is mirrored in our saving every penny we can to buy presents. To keep their spirits high, people would gather together and tell each other stories. And today, we do the same. Christmas is hailed as a magical and carefree time in the midst of the harshest season on earth. Not just from our own tales and legends that dominate the festival, but also because our modern lives protect us from many of the dangers our ancestors would have faced. Now, it is safe to frolic and relax in winter; there is a much lower threat of imminent death or food running out.

So once again, we find the light reads return. The ones that bring us close to our families and awaken nostalgic memories. But even though these types of books usually market themselves to a specific season, they do not necessarily dominate it. The increased knowledge of our own safety against nature has meant we can expand our horizons - and essentially go for the heavier stuff because our brains tell us it's safe to do so.

I was reading Lord of the Rings in Greece simply because I can't stand chic flicks. No matter whether I'm home or not, I like my stories to be the meaty kind. But that's just me. I have seen many other people reading more involved books on their holidays - everything from horror to sci fi, memoirs to historical fiction. I have also seen many keeping to the bright Confessions of a Shopaholic type books.

Good on them - both of them. Read whatever you want, whenever you want. The market might still play on our old primal psychology, but that's just part of advertising. Whether it's summer or winter, we can all find time now to relax, and enjoy something light or heavy when we open a book.

Happy Midsummer, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Gotta lotta
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