Leave me alone. I’m reading.

Posted: January 21, 2014 in Philosophy
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

reading

My greatest wish was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One I could read again and again, with new eyes and a fresh understanding each time. ~ Life of Pi

I try to read as much as possible. I’ll crack open any book spine if it looks interesting, but I don’t always finish skimming the first page. I’m attracted to a certain rhythm in the sentence structure. The words must possess a cadence with a fluid rise and fall that is punctuated by shorter sentences. The cadence allows me to read faster, absorb more, and internalize the words better.

It’s true I skim. My eyes don’t read determiners or conjunctions. Occasionally, my vision registers transition words. More often than not, I’m able to predict how the next sentence will be composed and can mentally insert the first few words without actually reading them. Yet I remember nearly everything I read because I’m able to make the time and find the focus to retain what matters most to me…words.

Words can be like x-rays if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced. ~ Brave New World

My speed reading doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate books. I’m fast because I want to get to the next book in my six-inch stack. You’ll notice my books are tangible. Hardcover, softcover, solid book spine, cracked book spine, creased dogeared pages, highlighted pages, notes in the side margins, sticky notes on the top margins, real ink, real smell. I prefer to touch a book. Touch means flipping through the covers. The contact is as comforting as giving a friend a hug. Or as reassuring as shaking hands with a new acquaintance. Touch means the wealth to buy the tangible, not the electronic. Touch means inscribing a book as a gift for a major life event or a presentation of commonplace thoughtfulness. Touch equals connection with life.

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. ~ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Finding books I want to read is hard. Colin Robinson of the New York Times who wrote “The Loneliness of the Long-distance Reader” says the inability to find books that I can relate to (thus finding books that I will actually want to finish) is because content produced by a professional book reviewer has all but disappeared. The role of a professional book reviewer has been replaced by algorithms produced by Goodreads and Amazon based on previous books read or bought. Robinson also attributes my inability to find books to the fact that there is little direct interaction with booksellers. Patrons of used bookstores and libraries are on the decline meaning people aren’t promoting books worth reading via word of mouth. All that readers have to rely on for word of mouth is the bestseller list.

I can attest to Robinson’s claim. Frequenting used book stores and libraries allows me to wander the shelves and watch what other readers are reading. Libraries and used book stores aren’t just places on a map that I go visit. They are a mecca for me and for others who love to read. At a library, there is a celebration for the love of knowledge, and there are almanacs of printed words to guide the quest for adventure. At a used book store, there is company even if the only sounds are someone sipping tea as pages are carefully turned. The library and the used bookstore–these refuges, these safe havens–allow us to escape from the cares that weigh us down and excuse us from the engagements that crowd our lives. When we read, we enter a realm of tranquility away from the incessant pings, dings, and chimes emitted from our cell phones and our social media.

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. ~ To Kill a Mockingbird

The time and focus necessary for reading also eliminates the loneliness associated with social media. Because we are in constant contact with one another we are conversely alienated from one another. The persistent restlessness that comes from checking and rechecking our social media has rewired the way we process information. Instead of mentally entertaining ourselves we must be constantly engaged. Our brains are trained  to think about sharing the entertaining information we find because we know we’ll be rewarded with positive reinforcement. We post to Facebook, to LinkedIn, to Twitter, to Goodreads, to Pintrest, to our seemingly intimate blog. A response to our post is posted. We respond to that post without the emotional benefit of face-to-face interaction. And the same emotionless exchange happens during texting and emailing. This constant connection through disjointed communication,  Stephen Marche writes in The Atlantic article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” “denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for awhile, the chance to disconnect.”

Our stacks of books that surround us, however, provide the much needed silence away from social media, emails, texts, blog posts, and news updates. These forms of electronic stimulation only seemingly demand our attention, and in false reality, create a sense of urgent restlessness. In reality, these demands can be set aside for a minute, an hour, even a day. We can disconnect if we only allow ourselves the time to pick up a book. A book is more than just a manufactured structure of glue, pulp, and ink. A book gives us the door to explore worlds seated in the past, planted in the present, and hovering in the future. Solitude with a book is not a lonely time. It allows us to retreat from the world to understand and interact with it.  Time spent reading creates a memory, reveals an illumination about our existence, and guides us to what necessary purpose our lives have here on earth.

Books are like flypaper. Memories cling to printed pages better than anything else. ~ Inkheart

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Comments
  1. Harliqueen says:

    I’m a pretty fast reader too, but that’s generally because when I find a book I like I have to devour it as fast as possible because I love stories and am very impatient to find out what happens next 😀 I do love getting away from technology and our invading world (though I do read a lot on the Kindle!). It gives me time to get my head clear and just do something fun without feeling the need to do something like tweet or find people on Facebook, etc.

    Very well written article and gives me a lot to think about 🙂 Thanks for posting it.

  2. Cesca says:

    Thank you for this article! You’re very right, and I wish I could read as quickly as you. Right now, I can only “read” for the duration of my daily commutes to and from work. Audiobooks are convenient but not as interactive.

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