It’s taken me a few months to go through the 2,000 pages that compose Robinson’s trilogy about the (hopefully) soon to come colonisation of Mars: Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1992) and Blue Mars (1996). At some point, particularly when the end of the Mars 500 experiment was announced (see, I thought that Mars would be colonised before I finished the last book. I was clearly a bit overoptimistic about the colonisation of the red planet and, happily, I’m done reading.

‘Happily’ not because I got tired but because reading the trilogy has brought in much pleasure. Intellectual, as Robinson is not afraid of tackling head on complex political and ideological issues, and indeed aesthetic, as he decided to slow down in the third book and take his time to detail the dramatic changes in the terraformed Martian landscape and in the personal experiences of the long-lived earliest Terran colonisers. I have also enjoyed enormously the sustained anti-patriarchal tone, manifest not only in the characterisation of the bold female protagonists but also in that one of the main achievements of the new native Martian society is the abandonment of old-fashioned patriarchy for complete equality. The men and women of the trilogy do engage in frequent occasional liaisons and long-lasting romance, yet, above all, both work very hard for the betterment of the land they occupy and for the creation of a radically new society. It’s truly refreshing to read about women scientists and politicians, even mystics, taking a leading role together with the men as a matter of fact (how, after this, I’m going to teach a chick lit novel in a few days is something that right now mystifies me).

Having paid my long-standing debt with Robinson, the usual questions crop up. Should I write a paper about the gender issues in his work? (but… I was reading this for pleasure!! And, anyway, the MLA database already carries plenty about him…) Shouldn’t I do something, anything with the many hours I have spent on Mars, forgetting about everything else? (but… it was my leisure time!! And, anyway, there’s so much else to read, some also by him). Should I, to recap, re-read the whole trilogy, now that I know the basics of the plotlines, and see if I can milk something publishable out of it? (but… 2000 pages again, pencil in hand??). Is reading for so long wasted time if it doesn’t lead to some writing beyond this blog entry? Insert here the usual deep sigh.

The lesson to be learned? No rest for the wicked (English Literature teachers), for if we enjoy reading a text, this leads to this strange wish to write about it which, as far as I know, none has analysed as the source of all literary research and criticism. Is it a form of appropriating the original text? Is it a guilty way of maximising the utility of our scant leisure time? I understand now why some of my colleagues keep for their free-time reading a genre they’re not interested in academically. Yet if we don’t read what we’re interested in academically in our so-called leisure time, when are we supposed to read it? After all, if I have crammed Robinson’s 2,000 pages in the evenings and weekends of the last three months this is because even though I am a professional reader as a teacher of English Literature there is no way I could have taken, for instance, a couple of my working weeks to read the three books. Not even if I had decided beforehand that I wanted to write a paper about the trilogy and that reading it was indeed work.

So, here is the paradox (or do I mean vicious circle?): I have used my leisure time to read what I could or should have read in my working hours if I didn’t have to waste them doing a hundred other things which the bureaucrats above regard as real work. For, in their twisted logic, reading Literature isn’t work since, as everyone knows, reading books is something one does for leisure. Unless, that is, one produces something publishable.

Whatever happened to reading just for the sake of filling in gaps and learning? Why, oh why, do I feel guilty that I have used so much time for the trilogy…?