So what went wrong? Well The Stuff of Thought was certainly a slow read. It's fascinating - which I've come to take for granted of Pinker - but the earlier chapters are densely packed and I'm still not entirely sure I grasped them fully despite taking my time to try and ensure I genuinely followed the details of the arguments involved. It probably took me the better part of two weeks to work my way through the whole thing. But this alone cannot account for my general lack of achievement.
In fact I read a great deal more than is listed above, but it came in the form of newspapers and magazines. It wasn't that I bought a paper everyday though - I found it took me a number of days simply to read whichever Sunday paper I picked up given the number of supplements each seemed to bring with it. I'd like to say I enjoyed getting back to this aspect of English life - and that's certainly something I would have said on my journeys to the UK in the previous decade. I remember then feeling a keen sense of regret at leaving behind the ability to indulge in good newspapers and magazines. However, this is no longer the case, primarily since I don't think I'd regard those newspapers as obviously 'good' ones anymore. The quality of analysis of news seems to me to have dramatically declined. Yes, there are good articles but you can no longer take for granted that the 'quality' press will spend time and energy on real analysis.
One painful example stood out. There was a particularly sad case of a child dying as a result of parental abuse in a London borough which involved a good deal of criticism of the social services. I didn't come across a single attempt to deal with the systemic failures that took place in any kind of detail at all, just plenty of angry indignation about the fact that the woman in charge of the department was still receiving a juicy salary and still in work after the report on what went wrong had been published. (She got the shove soon after as a result of all the indignation.) Now angry indignation as a specialty of the tabloid press is all well and good but it just comes over as lazy non-journalism in papers that purport to deal with the world in a serious manner.
In contrast endless column inches appeared to be devoted to people who are regarded as celebrities. Again, there's a place for this, but that place didn't use to be in The Times. I began to feel bludgeoned by having information and views (more views than info, it must be said) hammered into me when I really wasn't all that interested. In truth, the reading sometimes felt like a chore, and an unnecessary one at that.
I suppose I should exempt the generally excellent and plentiful reviews of books, films, music and theatre from my grumpy criticism, but even here I was haunted by a sense that it was the very plenty of this stuff that was preventing me from having the time to actually read the books and listen to the music. Something I've said before, but which bears repeating: for some the reviews become a substitute for the real thing. I must say that in this respect the accessibility of good material online and the fact that my local Borders now stocks The New York Review of Books has made it a little less of a necessity to grab hold of whatever is available when in the UK.
So I suppose I'm complaining of both a general dumbing down and a surfeit, an excess, one that I'm vulnerable to simply because I don't normally deal with it and a month is not enough time to erect sensible defences.