How I went from a devourer of books to starving myself of the written word...........
Occasionally when meeting someone new they will ask you “Are you a reader”? How do you reply? “Of course, sure I’m online all day”! “Oh you mean books? Not so much then”. That’s pretty much my response nowadays and I am ashamed to admit it. I had grown up an avid reader, a book a week was my absolute minimum as a child. But now I’m lucky if I get through a book a year and very rarely do I devote time to what was once my favourite hobby. So where did it all go wrong? How did I go from being a child who questioned the library’s decision to only allow five books out at once to an adult who would seemingly rather do anything than embrace the written word?
First off I must categorically state that I have never fallen out of love with reading. To me it is still the most immersive form of media and nothing compares to a good book. I love film, music and video games but at its best a book trumps them all. I put this down to the fact that you interpret a book in your own unique way, the characters, the locations, the sounds and the sights are all created by your own imagination. Unless of course you’re reading a book which has since been adapted into a film in which case you can’t help but see things as the director interpreted them. So if I still love reading so much why don’t I do it anymore?
I have pondered the answer to this question on many occasions, but like so much in life there is no sole reason, no one answer. Obviously I had a lot more time on my hands as a child, plus the Internet hadn’t been invented back then so there was no omnipresent distraction humming away in the corner of the room. There were video games back then though, my battered MegaDrive (RIP) is testament to that. Also there was the small matter of epic four hour games of football on a nightly basis, no matter the weather, to contend with. But yet I still found time to ‘curl up with a good book’ (isn’t that the most cringeworthy phrase of all time?) whenever I could.
You could try and point to the ‘coming of age’ years as the reason for my gradual decline but again it would be inaccurate. Discovering booze, women and a few other things may have changed my outlook on life in so many ways but still I read. Maybe not as much as when I was younger but still enough to consider myself a reader. I progressed from the playful scriptures of my youth to more diverse works and found myself not only being beguiled by the books themselves but by those who wrote them too. I looked up to these authors and found myself, almost unwittingly, quoting their work to invariably blank faces. Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe, Irvine Welsh, these men were heroes to me.
As an adult reader I found myself as likely to discuss my favourite works of fiction with my friends as I was the latest album I had listened to. Books were regularly exchanged with people you barely knew, your desire to have them feel what you felt overcame any misgivings you had about not getting the book back. Without even realising it I was educating myself. I’d sit absent mindedly watching a quiz on television and find myself answering questions which I had no right to answer, “How did you know that”? asked my clearly impressed Mother, “Dunno, must have read it somewhere”, came the response.
But then something changed. No longer could I while away the night without lifting my eyes from the page. My attention span shrunk and with it my desire to read became less and less. At the time I didn’t realise what was the cause but from a position of hindsight I can now clearly see how it all happened. The Internet. Yes the Internet, that all consuming, all dominating megalith which at one time or another has been blamed for each and every one of societies ails. It may not be responsible for obesity or teenage pregnancies like some have suggested but it was responsible for one thing. Single-handedly turning me from one of the planet’s most dedicated readers into someone who can barely go ten pages without wondering if he has any Facebook notifications. Oh curse you Internet and your instant gratifications.
It was a subtle change at first. As I read I’d feel my mind drifting away and be forced to focus on what was on the page so as to take it all it. But then I’d drift again, five minutes had passed and I hadn’t turned the page. What had I been thinking? This book must be crap I’d think as I powered my laptop on. “Ah there we go, the lovely Internet, with its online forums, Facebook newsfeed and all the information I could ever wish for, lovely”. Before I knew it three hours had passed and it was time for bed. That was what used to happen when I read I thought as I rubbed my bloodshot eyes and retired for the night with a headache induced from staring at a screen for too long. What have I become?
The die was now cast. I tried to swim against the tide but it was pointless. Any reading I did do was a fractious affair with online queries invading my thoughts at every given opportunity. Instead of immersing myself in my book I began to wonder about its content. I bet I could find out more about this online I’d say as the central character undertook his latest adventure to some far flung location. No longer did I allow myself to imagine. The Internet took care of that, because when you’re online there’s nothing left to imagine. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I’d read, and without those formative years spent inside a book I may not have the semi-average command of the English language I have to this day. What will become of the children of today, for whom the notion of reading a book is as laughable as a world without the Internet.
But I am fighting this affliction, I haven’t given up yet. I still don’t read anything like as much as I should but I’m getting better. Two hour train journeys to visit my nearest and dearest help the cause, but even then the nagging presence of my IPod prevents me from prolonged spells of reading. There may yet be a solution for my malaise however. Something which will transform me from the dilettante I’ve become right back to the proper little bookworm I once was. It’s a form of technology but unlike those other intrusive devices it will aid not thwart my reading. An Amazon Kindle. Or an e-reader of any type I’m not fussy. I truly believe that having access to so much reading material in the palm of my hand may be the way forward. That utilising a piece of technological hardware will quell my desire for online news. I have to believe this. I have to. Because it’s my last hope. The only thing that’s stopping me from becoming one of those people who doesn’t read. And I never want to be one of those.