I cannot pinpoint the exact time in my life when my reading routine changed and declined. I don’t know if the academic “rigor” of middle– and high school was the culprit, but I definitely read much less on my own — for pleasure — as I got older. It seemed that most of the things that I read were for school. Outside of schoolwork, I would mainly read car and skateboard magazines, album covers (don’t ask), and occasionally thumb through shelves lined with Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic magazines. (What can I say? I’ve been a nerd for a long time.) I was an English major in college, and certainly read a lot. Though much of the material that I read in college literature classes was interesting and enjoyable, that reading, again, was not for pleasure. It took effort to read all of those books. The only thing that saved me throughout my years in school, including law school, is that I typically retain what I read.
But what happened to reading for pleasure? How do I get that back?
The answer to that question has been rather hard to pin down. If you pay attention to my bookmarks series, you probably are thinking, “It sure seems like you read a lot;” but that reading is spread out over the course of a week, and it comes in doses. No longer do I curl up in a chair with a book like I did when I was a kid — escaping into the story.
I have yet to read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, which is sitting on my coffee table, but I am very interested to look deeper into about what Carr has to say about how our brains are being rewired because of the Internet. I touched on this a bit in my piece about opting out of social media, but I feel like my thoughts and focus are shot. I look with envy when I see someone lost in a book. Carla is a voracious reader. I want some of that.
I think the first step toward my goal of reading more is to figure out what I am really interested in. I never realized how much I wanted to impress others with smarts. I would, sometimes, read obscure works just that I could sound, if not be, learned. My interest was not connected to what was revealed between the covers of the book, but by the reactions of those who heard me recite the words from these books. That’s bad.
[Start: “dirty laundry”]
Sometime this practice applied to things that interested me, too. I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about the plight of Blacks in this country, as well as Blacks in the diaspora. However, there are times when I would just feel “Blacked Out.” I got sick of always, and fairly exclusively, reading about Black people. For the record, it’s not as easy as just saying “Well, just read something else.” At least it wasn’t that easy for me, because I have always felt a responsibility for being knowledgeable about the history, and current condition, of Black people. That probably needs to be worked out in another post, and I need to move on. I’ll just say this: That shit is exhausting! Fortunately, I have moved to a place where I am focused on being authentic and not living to prove or justify myself, or impress others.
[End “dirty laundry”]
So, what do I want to read? I have always said that I don’t enjoy fiction, which is a bit because I love fictitious movies. Nevertheless, I’ve tried and failed to get into most fiction books. It could have something to do with my lack of patience and focus. I probably haven’t given most books time to warm up and grab my attention. I’ve had a bad habit of approaching books with a microwave attention span. Come on! It’s been 30 seconds already. Why aren’t you hot yet?
Recently, I picked up Shelly Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, about the ironic phenomenon of the disconnection in the age of online social networks and technological tools like email, text messaging and instant messaging. The book has pulled me in, and I admit that I have been quite proud about plowing through the book. I feel inspired. I’ve started to think about what I want to read next. The difference is that I feel the urge to follow through, whereas before I would just buy a new book that would eventually just collect dust on the shelf, coffee table or night stand. I was so tickled with myself in the library that I must have walked around for about 30 minutes before I started to hone in on some books that I have been eyeballing lately. Most of them have to do with creativity, focus, and learning more about how our minds work. Just as I was about to pick up The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robison, I saw Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything and it spoke to me. I took the book the counter with a big smile on my face. The librarian was still entering my information into the computer. She scanned the book and pulled out the date stamp to mark my due date. I felt myself shrink to a little kid looking up to the counter, reaching out to take my book home. Sometimes we can — and should — relive our childhood.
I just pre-ordered a Nexus 7 tablet, so I am already wondering if I will move to reading only e-books. I think that the convenience of an e-reader will be nice, but I think that I’d like to not lose that sensation of holding a book in my hands; not to mention the child-like thrill of going to the library.
Do you have a library card? If so, do you actively use it?