Confession: I don’t read novels anymore.
Truth be told, I don’t read any big books anymore. I don’t read ’em on a screen or as a print book. My interaction with words has been reduced to quick articles and short pieces on the interweb. I am sometimes inclined to read more in-depth pieces of the sort published on Longreads (This one I just read today…really fascinating.) After a lifetime of being a ‘sustained silent reader’ –a thing that is nearly universally accepted as a personal and social good; it’s what we crave for our kids, yes?–I have lost the desire (or ability) for long, sustained silent reading.
It started in 2011. This blog from 2010 demonstrates the kind of reader I used to be: 2010: My Year in Reading. Starting almost as soon as that blog was posted, something changed. I bought a Kindle.
I have been a fierce proponent for the digital age in general and for ebooks in particular. Why be a afraid of ebooks?! The book is the book whether it be a codex, a pdf, or an epub? Am I right? What matters is not the form but the content.
In 2010 the public library where I worked received a grant to purchase and evaluate one of every major (and some minor) ebook readers on the market. This included: the iPad, Kobo, Nook, and Kindle. I administered this program, which was primarily intended for our staff to learn how these devices operated. We had just launched a major ebook lending program, and the staff needed to understand the technology to better help our patrons.
I used each of these devices. I read many ebooks. I was able to get lost in the reading and forget that I was using a device other than the trusty codex. It was at that moment–the moment when I forgot that I was reading on a device–that I decided to purchase my own ebook reader. Christmas of 2010 I bought a Kindle as a present for myself.
And it’s been all downhill for my reading since then.
Things started off smoothly enough. I downloaded and checked out numerous titles. I came into a trove of great literary books through a friend of mine, titles as various as One Hundred Years of Solitude to Tom Clancy, both the heady and the high brow. I re-read One Hundred Years. That’s not a short book. But as the months went on I would find myself carrying my Kindle around thinking to read a book, and then when I had time to read, I would open a book on my Kindle, read a few pages, and then go to my “library” to see if there was something else I felt like reading. I might open another book or five other books, read a few dynamically rendered pages and then end up back on the homescreen scrolling through the hundreds of titles on my device. With a library in my pocket, I could never decide on and then commit to a book to read till the end.
I also got a smart phone and started reading a lot of internet schtuff. Where once I used to eat lunch and read a book, now I ate lunch while scrolling though my Feedly updates or worse, I lunched and trolled facebook posts. Where I used to strive to read a chapter or two over the course of my lunch break, now I read four or five short articles and scanned four times as many headlines.
I stopped going to bookstores. I stopped browsing the stacks of the library. I didn’t even realize this was happening. Somehow, almost overnight, my reading style had changed and I didn’t even notice or care. Occasionally, someone would ask me what I’d been reading lately. When I was being honest, I said I hadn’t been reading much. When I was not being honest, I would name the last physical book that I had read–as those were the ones that were memorable. Often, it had been months or years since I read the book.
Now, five years on. I am ready to admit it: I don’t want print books to go away. I want to be a reader again. Please, God, let me be a reader again.
Which is not to say that I haven’t read some amazing things online. But, the way in which I read seems almost permanently altered, and with it my life.
Someone asked me six years ago, how I managed to read so many books. This seemed like a strange question to me because I didn’t feel that I read that much or that my reading was in anyway an anomaly. I had a busy life, but I read in the morning before starting work, I read the same book on my lunch break and on two fifteen min breaks during the day, and if I had time at night, I read a little before bed. It is easy to read a book a week this way, and if you read 56 books in a year, then people think you are a voracious reader, but to me I simply made reading a habit and then forgot that I had that habit.
Is it possible to pick that habit back up?
One thing that has changed over these five years is that I tend to be on the lookout for the next ‘important’ thing. I don’t want to waste my time reading crap. And with so much happening in our world today, I fear that if I read fiction, I’ll miss some important thing. Like I wouldn’t know about Occupy Wall Street because I was too busy reading East of Eden. The headlines of the World Wide Web have conditioned my brain to want immediacy and relevance: two characteristics that are most often lacking in quality fiction. Even the short story seems like a pedantic act of artistic masturbation, especially when I could be reading about the salacious habits of a Dugger or following links to the Onion or John Stewart or some dude on Viveo who rants about property redistribution.
The therapeutic benefits of long sustained reading are priceless. I would be less stressed if I were reading again, YET, I wonder if it’s possible to go back. Having entered the e-world can one return to the non electronic world? Do I still have both the capacity and the desire for long, sustained reading?