"I am going through a personal crisis. I used to love reading. I am writing this blog in my office, surrounded by 27 tall bookcases laden with some 5,000 books. Over the years I have read them, marked them up, and recorded the annotations in a computer database for potential references in my writing. To a large degree, they have formed my professional and spiritual life.My Reading War
"Books help define who I am. They have ushered me on a journey of faith, have introduced me to the wonders of science and the natural world, have informed me about issues such as justice and race. More, they have been a source of delight and adventure and beauty, opening windows to a reality I would not otherwise know.
"My crisis consists in the fact that I am describing my past, not my present. ... I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work... The internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around."
Like Yancey, I read about three books a week. That started by the time I was ten and went on until about when I turned 40. But after 2010, I couldn't do it anymore.
Here's how it happened. I was given my first i-device (an iPod Touch) in February or March, 2011. In time it was followed by an iPad and an iPhone, this time my own purchases. These proved handy for reading books, yes, but for so many other things as well: texts and emails, playing games, taking in music or movies, perusing social media, and doing a variety of tasks related to work... all of which, until that point, I either did without or had to turn on my laptop for. So every time I sat down to read, these other options were just a click away.
By the end of 2011 I'd sorted and packed up my books and moved to Oregon. I had a whole new life. Not much time alone. Most volumes stayed in their boxes until Chris and I got married and rented a house, and were boxed up again a few years later, when we moved in 2015. So reading was more difficult during those seasons, too. Plus, I'd lived within walking distance of libraries for the previous 20 years. That was no longer true. The way the city lines were drawn in Eugene meant I couldn't get a library card.
I wasn't reading so much anymore.
Now it's 2019 and my life is simpler than it was then. I have more control over how I use my time. I have my books. And I have a library card again!
But it's still hard to get back to reading when the internet and games and social media are all right there on my devices, enticing me with shallow satisfaction.
I can no longer read 100+ books a year. I'm shooting for 80. Probably seems a lot to some, but I read fast, and with fiction I may devour it the way other people watch movies or binge on Netflix.
But lately I've been thinking more about reading quality rather than the number of pages I can read or hours I can spend with my nose in a book. I want to read differently. More intentionally. And that is going to take some different strategies.
Kindle Vs. Paper
Being the frugal type, I usually count on the library for new books, unless they are things I can buy for work and reimburse. And whether I buy or borrow, I've grown to prefer ebooks. They are just so convenient. I can browse for them on my phone. Often get them immediately. I don't have to schlep them around. I can choose the font and font size; read them in the light or in the dark. On the treadmill. Wherever I am. And if they're from the library, they even return themselves!
But here's the thing. Libraries have been collecting paper books much longer than they've been investing in electronic ones. They have more of them. Especially for those like me who prefer books that stand the test of time but may not make the bestseller lists.
I think I need to read more paper books. Read more of the good stuff. Learn what I want to learn, consume what I really want to consume, not just picking from a small collection I can get for free from the library's Kindle collection. Paper books? Yes, they may have fine print, but I have reading glasses if I need them. They may not glow in the dark, but I still have a lamp or two I can turn on!
Today I took a look at my want-to-read list on the book-tracking website, Goodreads. It's pretty long. These are mostly books I can't get in Kindle editions from my library. Some of them are on Hoopla, an alternate library interface, but that's clunky and prone to crashing.
So I logged into the main catalog. Right! They still have real books! Easily found half a dozen from my list. Most were checked in. I placed my holds. The library will send them to my closest branch. I should have 3-4 by the end of the week. We'll see how long it takes me to get through them.
Still too easily distracted? Probably so. But here's something that lowers the pressure a bit: This summer our library system joined the ranks of those that no longer charge overdue fines. Another way the world has changed. It's not just me.