With Twitter notifications, emails coming and going, and websites to update (in theory), it seems hard to settle down with a long book and slowly turn the pages. I find myself listening to e-books on my phone more often than I sit down and make my eyes scan the letters that create sentences and paragraphs and entire threads of narrative.
Listening to books has its appeal. I can listen to books while I walk the dog or fold a load of laundry or weed the garden. It’s multi-tasking at its best. Strange things happen to my brain, however. For instance, I’ve been listening to a wonderful book by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, The Seamstress, and as I think back to certain parts of the book, I simultaneously remember where I was and what I was doing when I listened to those parts. I was driving on 40th Street when I read about the American soldiers carrying Seren's 40-pound body to the hospital, and I was weeding my kitchen garden (specifically, I was pulling purslane out from around the bok choy) when I read about Seren's teacher’s wife brushing her hair on the way to the academic competition in Bucharest. Are these associations distracting my brain from making more meaningful connections?
Anyway, I’m also reading a paperback right now, Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. I’m enjoying this book immensely as well, but I feel like it’s sinking deeper than The Seamstress, and maybe it’s because I can’t pull weeds as I read. Maybe it’s because my eyes see the letters and have to process the letters into words. Maybe it’s partially because I invest more when I focus all of my brain power on one task at a time.
It’s time to make a change. While I won’t stop listening to e-books while I fold laundry and weed the garden, I plan to always have an old-fashioned, book-length work at my fingertips because I don’t like the trend I’m seeing.
And I have evidence of the trend. See, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of everything I’ve read since 1996. Compulsive? Yes. I’ve tracked dates, titles, authors, dates published, category, rating, and page numbers. My memory is terrible, so the spreadsheet helps me to look up titles and authors when I’m recommending books to friends. It helps me to see my interests over time. And now it helps me to see that I need to step up my game. The evidence is clear. Here are total page numbers per year.
2017 (first half): 5980
Yikes, 2015 was awful (it was the year I ran for school board), but you can see the downward general trend. This year is looking up, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Life is richer when reading is a priority, and I feel that my writing is better and my reasoning is fairer and more measured when I have the thoughts of greater minds bouncing around in my head.
Does old-fashioned, book-length reading help if you stick to one genre? I think so, although I like to vary it as much as I can. For instance, here are some of the authors on my spreadsheet for the first half of 2017: Lois Lowry, Sophocles, Ayn Rand, Lisa Graff, Sarah Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Andrea Di Robilant, Aristophanes, Anne Tyler, Patrice Kindl, Dan Brown, Shonda Rhimes, Robert Massie, David McCullough, Pearl Buck, and Khaled Hosseini. When I think of the privilege it is to read the intimate thoughts of people as interesting and thoughtful as these, I feel immense gratitude. What would life be like without reading?
They say you’re more likely to achieve a goal when you write it down, so here’s my goal: 12,000 pages by the end of 2017. Hold me to it.