I must confess: I stopped reading.
As a person whose vocation is writing books for people to read, I’m ashamed of this fact. I hid the truth from everyone, myself included, for nearly six months. I was busy, I said. Every time I picked up a book, I thought of something I needed to do: a writing deadline to meet, an Instagram post to craft, a friend’s book release to tweet, a presentation to prepare, an author event to attend, emails to reply, novels to blurb, a dog to walk, a husband to feed, a house to clean, a mother/father/brother/ friend to call, trash to take out, weeds to pull, a birthday card to write, a doctor’s appointment to make, leaves to sweep, an interview to give, a bag to pack, a trip to take, and it all required doing right that minute with no time to spare.
The calendar was my track and my train wheels kept moving faster and faster. I dared not complain because everybody’s wheels are moving fast—most even faster than my own. I bet you’re thinking to yourself this very second: if she only knew how fast I’m spinning. I give you full validation. No doubt, you’re spinning faster than I could ever imagine or hope to keep up.
Please hear my heart, none of the aforementioned To Do’s are negative. They’re all very important to my life. I wanted to do them. I gleaned great happiness in completing them—checking their boxes off my list. I may not have been reading as extensively as in the past (or at all), but I was being productive! I was taking care of business and keeping my train running smoothly.
It wouldn’t have dawned on me that I’d abandoned my love of reading if I hadn’t been sitting at a board meeting of a nonprofit I proudly support. Up for discussion was a vital piece of information in the fine print of one of our charitable pamphlets. To which, an esteemed fellow board member bemoaned, “Well, how is anybody supposed to see that? Nobody reads anymore.”
The remark stopped everyone but not for the reason you may think. We didn’t stop because what she’d said was false. We stopped to consider the truth of it, scrutinizing the text and sighing in agreement that perhaps a graphic was the better way to impart the detail.
It was a moment of stinging revelation for me: we are in an epidemic of immediacy. A culture of do-do-do, now-now-now, go-go-go. Everything is vying for our instant attention and demanding an instant answer. How in the world are the simple pleasures supposed to hold a candle? How is a slow-burning candle supposed to hold a candle? It can’t, not when a flick of a light switch will do the job in a fraction of a time with a thousand percent more power. And similarly, my personal reading pleasure has been afflicted and replaced by social media posts, book reviews, literary podcasts, and blogs. Like my To Do list, none of these are negative. Quite the opposite, they are hugely positive! It is a true joy meeting literary friends through these avenues. But I have to remind myself that they are meant to augment our reading, not replace it.
I’ll confess one further. This very minute, I came down from my writing office with a beautiful, unread novel in my hands. It’s October. An exquisite season for outdoor reading. But I got two steps out the door with my porch swing in clear view when I remembered I’d promised my Writer Unboxed family an essay. I turned around and went back upstairs. It dawned on me to write about this—the struggle of now. In doing so, I hope to satisfy the gods of immediacy so I can take my novel back out onto the porch before the sun sets and remember why I push myself so hard down the tracks.
Love of literature: the raw honesty of a reader meeting a story and being forever changed by that quiet, prolonged communication. It feeds our souls and we need it far more than we need the doing… because tomorrow there will always be more to do. The tracks loop like a toy train. As long as we keep clicking the buttons, our train will keep going. No end in sight.
So I’ll keep this post short for both our sakes and return my fingers to an old, familiar task of turning pages. I highly encourage you to do the same.
**** UPDATE ****
Thanks to you, my writing community, and this confessional post, I have delighted in the reading pleasures of the following:
- Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown
- I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (Re-reading selected chapters because I think that we need to bring back re-reading, too. Once is never enough!)
What are you reading or what book will you post here as a commitment to reading it?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!