Becoming a Reader

Before finding a cure, everyone with a serious problem must arrive at the point where she can hold it up to the light and admit that that’s what it is: a big, fat problem.

Well, this is that point for me, and I’m here before you and god and everyone to confess.

I do not read books.

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I do not read books! I am a reader’s advocate, a lifelong devotee of the printed word, loyal despiser of e-Readers [though, disclaimer: part of my job description includes teaching the unwashed, white-haired masses how to operate their Kindles and nooks], smeller of musty antique pages, fetishist of pretty covers….and I can’t make it through an entire book. I’m a librarian, for god’s sake! I majored in English!

Yet, this is the ugly truth. At best I would call myself a poor reader; at worst I am someone who doesn’t deserve the title at all. My shelves are full of books I’ve only read the first half of. Each week I come home from work at the public library with an armload of fascinating volumes. I return them, three weeks later, gently perused, skimmed, or (the shame!) completely untouched.

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It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon my mom clipped out and taped to the fridge when I was a kid (attention deficit runs in the family): Two women, mingling at a sophisticated cocktail party. “Read the first page of any good books lately?” says one to the other. If only I knew how to walk in heels, I would become a professional cocktail party attendee. I’m good at small talk. I genuinely like people, enjoy tiny, crustless sandwiches, and have read enough excerpts from good books to fake intellectualism without overdoing it. Invite me to your party (maybe prop me up next to the hors d’oeuvres table in sensible pumps) and I’ll schmooze, dropping tidbits without making anyone feel they are being confronted with any actual knowledge or depth.

The problem stems from the fact that I have the attention span of a goldfish, but that doesn’t mean I can’t overcome it, right? (Biology is not destiny: something I learned from the first half of “The Feminine Mystique”!)

PLAN
1. Read 30 pages minimum a day. No Internet, friends, staring at ceilings until it’s done (because, paradoxically, I can’t read three pages of fiction without losing interest, but can stare catatonically at the ceiling for hours).
2. Write a short review on Goodreads of everything I read. Sometimes what discourages me from reading a book is that I know I will forget it in ten years. Maybe writing a short reflection of the book will help me remember it in the same way that writing papers in college seared the boring minutiae of early American domestic fiction into my brain (Out, damn early American domestic fiction! I wash my hands of thee! Let me have the space back for telephone numbers and trivia facts and the various alien species of Doctor Who!).
3. Cultivate attention span. I truly believe the Internet is wrecking our brains changing the way our brains think. On one hand, we are better at multitasking, switching from tab to tab, watching one video while another one loads, clicking a link in the middle of one article to look at a photo album on a related subject. On the other hand, we can’t concentrate anymore, and we can’t memorize as well because we have no need for it. I read the first half of a very interesting book called “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” and I wish I could remember it because it made some very good points.

Anyway, I think I spend too much time surfing the ‘net mindlessly, and not enough time focusing on one thing. I think this exacerbates traits that I naturally possess anyway; namely, an almost ADD-esque inability to focus for longer than three minutes. I think one’s attention span can be refined and strengthened, even without shunning the Internet. I just need to stop skipping from one page to the next, finish one article before I begin another.

Okay, now this is just turning into a laundry list. I better go. My mom and stepdad are having an Easter celebration that started out as a grand dinner and has slowly devolved first to a cold picnic in the park to brunch out at a restaurant and finally to just working out in the yard. So, off to pull some weeds.

Next time you hear from me, I will have finished a book.

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2 thoughts on “Becoming a Reader

  1. Life is all about honesty…I am glad I didn’t ask you to recommend a good book! I think to keep you on track, place a picture of Dori from finding Nemo next to your bed. And when your brain starts to wonder, just remember to keep swimming!

  2. “I read the first half of a very interesting book called “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” and I wish I could remember it because it made some very good points.”

    This cracked me up.

    I totally agree that our cultural attention span is becoming more and more flighty, with our addiction to media greatly contributing, and I’ve let myself get sucked into it just as much. I’ve been making a concerted effort to get back into reading myself lately, although even that feels a little fraudulent to me, since I invariably end up reading something like Keith Richards’s autobiography when I’ve still never read, say, The Great Gatsby. There’s something skewed about that.

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