When is the last time you read a book?
My answer to that question is: late February. But my real answer should be: I don’t read enough. And that’s a sad thing for a writer.
I talk a lot about the way we wrote as kids, just for the fun of it, no expectations, just playing with words. I should also be dancing with books, traveling through other worlds to experience the words of others. I should be reading not necessarily to learn from or to study with an eye towards technique, but really, just to pass the time.
“Should” is an evil, passive excuse of a word. Anything that “should” be done “needs” to be done. That is so much easier to say than do because there is so much more in the world to do.
Welcome to the world of social media. We pass our time with heads buried in our phones or tablets, getting neck cramps from looking down too much, missing the scenery we ride by and not hearing the people around us. Given that, who wants to carry a book when you’ve got hundreds downloaded onto your Kindle or Nook app? Further frustration: who wants to open those apps when you can have the three-star-rush of Angry Birds or discovering five new Pinterest recipes for banana nut bread?
The world of electronic gadgets and the bright shiny oooooooh of it all do suck me in. I don’t spend my time reading books. That makes me sad, but I don’t see myself changing my routine.
The most recent book I finished was a memoir recommended to me. I bought it—a physical copy—because that person said, it sounded like the type of memoir I was writing. I bought it to study and learn from it, the story being a secondary aspect. It turns out that the approach worked for me; the story was not a great one and I didn’t connect with the character, but there were lines of brilliant emotion that struck my heart. I wonder: would I have bought that book just off a bookshelf, physical store or otherwise, if I didn’t have that writing connection to it?
I’m writing this in a Starbucks, and what a twist of coincidence just now. I overhear a conversation between two women where one says, “Have you read the latest James Patterson novel?” I’m pausing to listen. The music’s loud enough and the women are far enough away that I’m only hearing snippets. “He has a team of writers.” “He’s always on top of it.” “It’s always a mystery story.” “Reading Wall Street Journal,” at which point I think the discussion has moved on to other topics.
I am thrilled to hear this conversation. Angled towards each other, these women are still a community of two. What are they doing? I have to get a closer look. I’m a terrible judge of age, but they look the age of people who still prefer reading paperbacks. Do they have a roughed-up paperback between them? That’d be so cool. I tell myself I need to sweeten my coffee more, so I shuffle by and peer over their shoulders. They’re both looking down at large smartphones or small tablets. I am actually disappointed. I tell myself that regardless where or how they read it, they read it. Together.
They’re doing more than I am.
Months ago, I made reading a priority and set goals for the year. I contributed my part to my writers group’s list of our New Year’s Writing Non-Resolutions. You can read everyone’s lists here. One of my non-resolutions is what I think is an achievable reading goal for me.
As a writer, I feel a need to be more involved on Goodreads, so I updated my pathetically outdated account. I enrolled in the 2015 Reading Challenge. The number of books that I think is achievable for me is…well, check it out here and form your own opinion.
My list of books “currently reading” or “want to read” include two that people want me to review and/or critique. Now I’m a reviewer. Now I’m reading with a purpose, an obligation. It’s more like a job.
When was the last time I wandered a bookstore with the intention of finding a book to read for selfish pleasure? I don’t know. I really don’t know. There’s a lack of bookstores in my part of southeast Michigan. There are two Barnes and Noble bookstores located a short drive from me. There is one nice local independent store of new and used books, and then there’s one junky, cluttered used bookstore. There’s a fabulous large used bookstore on the edge of Detroit, but it’s just far enough away for me to think of it as out of the way. Nice excuses soothing my guilty conscience.
I guess I should stop making excuses for not reading.