on reading

For whatever reason, for however long it lasts, I have regained the ability to read.

Of course I don’t mean that literally. I read every day: I read email and websites, blogs and magazine articles.

What absented itself over the last few years was the ability to, ummm, go the distance.

When I was young and in early middle age, it was trivial for me to read two or three books a week. The sensation was the same one you get on a cross country drive: the feeling of miles chewed up and spit out, the knowledge that you can go as long as the road lasts.

Oddly, at about the same time that my ability to stay awake on long distance drives fled, so did my ability to power my way through books. (If you get the feeling I’m an active, even aggressive reader, you’re right.)

Maybe I did it to myself, in part, by overloading the shelves. I bought a lot of books in 2007, 08, 09 and faced the reader’s dilemma a few times, as in, where to start?

The more realistic answer is that health issues, being out of shape, and other similar things cut into my reading.

There were many nights over the last two or three years when I would read a page, maybe two, and reliably fall asleep on the spot.

Plus, like everyone else, I use the internet a lot, and the net does not seem to lend itself to deep reading.

In order to fight the problem, I adopted an unusual tactic, often reading a book backwards or ‘sideways,’ (start in the middle and read forward, then double back and read backwards from the halfway point.)

It sorta worked, but was clearly a holding action, and I knew in my heart that I had lost the most precious gift of mind I have. (I would be just fine with this on my tombstone: “Here Lies X, Reader.”)

Anyway, about a month ago, my capacity to read at length started coming back. The first sign was I managed to finish several books I had gotten part way into; then I began knocking off short, ‘bookish’ length reads.

(Aside: that’s one of the things I like about electronic publishing – writers and publishers are reviving the long essay or non-fiction story as a stand-alone. For a few bucks you can get something that works comfortably at, say, 120 pages, as opposed to larger bucks for that same 120 pages of substance, only forced to be longer so that it can be sold as a proper book. What’s next? The Revival of EPs?)

Now I’m digesting longer, more ambitious work without difficulty. It doesn’t feel like it did when I was 30, but then, neither does anything else. I’m just glad to have some of the reading me back.

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