I love to read. Love it. How much do I love reading? One year, when I was of college age but not in college and only intermittently employed, I read almost 400 books, averaging just a hair over one a day, all year. That’s a lot of love. Yet somehow, despite this love of reading, last year I read…well, I’m not sure if I actually read a book last year. And I knew that had to change.
If you’re a regular reader of this column (and may whatever deities you place your faith in bless you if you are), you might remember that one of my geeky New Year’s resolutions was to reinvigorate my reading habit, specifically my novel-reading habit. It’s not like I wasn’t still reading — it’s just that the easy ubiquity of the Internet, especially as delivered via my smartphone and tablet, meant that most of my reading time was eaten up with news and nonsense.
Taking care of two toddlers means that I am never not busy, but I’m a fast reader, and I find myself with lots of small stretches of time every day, and I was probably managing to read a good 35,000 Internet words a day, maybe more. For a long time, I told myself this was as good as, or maybe even better than, reading books...but I was wrong. How many articles can you read about what a nightmare Donald Trump is, or how to build a better Magic deck, before you hit a point of diminishing returns? I don’t know the actual number, but I do know it’s fewer than I was reading. Far fewer.
Still, somehow I convinced myself that reading books just wasn’t going to work. Books are harder to read in short, choppy bursts, I told myself. I didn’t like my e-reader as much as paper books, but paper books were hard to carry around, and e-books were expensive compared to the treasures I unearthed from used bookstores (especially since even though I stopped reading books, I never really stopped buying them, so I already owned maybe a hundred books I had never read). My list of excuses was long and tiresome and all too convincing. But you know what? It was also total bullshit.
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After dithering for almost the entire first two months of this new year, I finally stopped staring moonily at my bookshelf of “real” books and admitted that dragging those around as I attempted to keep two toddlers alive (and reading them in the dark while I rocked my son to sleep twice a day) just wasn’t going to happen. So I dug out my e-reader and brought it back from the dead (it hadn’t been turned on in over a year!) and picked the first book on it that looked remotely interesting, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. And I read that fucker in three days. Then I grabbed The Martian, since I loved the movie so much, and read it in a day. Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation also took me just a little more than a day. A week into this “read more novels” thing, and my fire is burning as bright as ever before, and I’ve only sort of neglected my children in the process (hey, they didn’t miss any meals; they’ll live). My brain, which had been feeling flat and listless for too long, is now teeming with ideas and excitement, and it is wonderful.
Anyway, I don’t write this to brag (okay, maybe a little), but to encourage all of you to do the same. I know I am not the only constant reader out there who’s been seduced by the ever-flowing Internet spigot into setting aside books. I know I’m not the only geek who found it much easier to play a video game, watch some Twitch streams or just stare listlessly at Facebook for hours a day when a bookshelf full of mystery and wonder was within arm’s reach.
And if I did it, so can you. Whatever your excuses, they’re bullshit. You’re not too poor; libraries give books out for free. You’re not too busy if you can find time to read this. And there’s no shortage of great books out there, no matter what you like to read. (If you can’t find it, ask your friends or join Goodreads or even ask a librarian.) Put down your phone, pick up a book and get to it. You’ll thank me, and maybe you can even recommend a few more books for me to read. At the rate I’m going, I’ll need some soon.