Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: hobbies

Reading Is Not “Normal”

So, I recently came across this AITA post from a mother who thinks her 22-year-old daughter is reading too much and that she should quit reading and concentrate on her studies and get a better job. Aside from the weirdness of such a parent posting on Reddit and complaining about her adult child who could make her own decisions already (if it’s a helicopter parent or tiger parent, why the heck would they waste their time on Reddit unless it’s someone trolling everyone for the clicks), it does make me wonder why so many parents out there have some stereotypical idea of a successful child who will study and have “acceptable” hobbies that always involve some form of socializing. 

Reading a lot for pleasure, strangely enough, is still considered deviant. Why is it considered normal to not read books? The average person hardly even reads one book a year, let alone several. For a lot of regular jobs, you don’t need to read any books if all you care about is the money. And, some would say that the obvious anti-intellectual streak in society is also a strong contributor to this disdain with books. To me, being stuck in one place with no food for the mind seems like a poor way to live. Books have so many advantages–it opens up the world, presents new ideas, stimulates creativity, and builds empathy as you read the words that come from someone else’s mind.

I think my parents definitely worried that I was reading too much when I was younger and that I needed to socialize more. Well, I guess I could have socialized more, but I didn’t like it. I’m an introvert through and through and even now, I’d prefer not to talk with anyone. Then again, even though my parents had said that I was reading too much, they didn’t really do anything to curb my reading, either. I always got to max out my library card and check out whatever I wanted–no limits.

The purpose of that digression is just to say that I’ve read a lot and I don’t think it has messed me up. (Unless you’re one of Those Parents who think kids are only successful if they are medical doctors, engineers, or lawyers–in that case I’m an utter failure.) Even though my current life is as far away from the house with the white picket fence, spouse, 2.5 kids, and a dog as it can get, I’m doing all right considering all the crazy in the world right now. And there are even people who call me normal. I’m not quite sure about that, though. Normality is relative.

Whatever You Do, Keep Wondering

Nature has recently started publishing a series of Q & A sessions with writers who write science books for a different, non-expert, audience.  In this Thursday’s issue, David Brin is interviewed about fiction writing (subscription required).

I always find myself interested in what other scientists have to say about fiction writing–particularly since most scientists I encounter are not very interested in writing fiction (although they may be avid readers) and most writers are not particularly keen on the science (although they might be pretty intrigued with lasers and black holes).  One writer I once met seemed absolutely amazed that I could do science and writing at the same time–as if they were mutually exclusive tasks.

I find myself, well, feeling a bit left out when all the other writers claim that writing is their passion and that they want to do it all day to the exclusion of everything else.  And I am very reluctant to disclose to anyone in science that I write–for fun.  Because for a lot of people, these things are an either-or proposition. Brin, however, has a slightly different take on it:

You have to love it as a hobby, develop your skill and not give a damn when [getting published] will actually happen.

This is pretty much how I view writing: a compulsive hobby.  It’s something that I love but not so much that I’m going to quit grad school in order to live the carefree life of a wastrel scribbler wandering the hinterlands.

Unfortunately, the interview was too short to go into any philosophical questions on why a scientist would end up writing fiction.  While people might jump to the conclusion that writing fiction and science are two totally different things and that anyone who would want to do both are crazy or brilliant polymaths–I would suggest a much simpler and mundane reason.  Both science and writing ask questions that the curious mind would inevitably posit.  Except that one is about reality and the other is about the imagination.