The (Non-)Reading Habits of the Terminally Distracted

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When I was a kid in Europe, I remember bookstores were almost luxury destinations. I would walk into one and feel overwhelmed and awed, and I’d touch the volumes with utmost reverence. Books were expensive. All of them, except for a handful of children’s books and pocket atlases, were hardbound with gorgeous covers that were as much works of art as the words held within. They were also a universe unto themselves. Getting an autograph, or even running into an author of any kind was almost unheard of. Seeing one made into a movie was a Very Big Deal.

My great uncle would collect books just to show them off on his shelves. His brother, my grandfather, on the other hand, would borrow them from him to read, because he loved the written word, but couldn’t afford to buy the books he wanted. My mom had entire shelves filled with series by her favorites, all black spines with white text, and a clear number on the bottom indicating its order in the series. She never touched them after they were read, except to wipe dust off the tops.

When I crossed the Big Blue Ocean, things changed. Suddenly, I saw paperback books displayed in grocery stores. I could afford to buy one every week, and I read them just as quickly. Creased and broken spines were a loving testament to books re-read dozens of times. Dog-eared pages marked my favorite passages. I would re-read them time and again, and then hug the book to my chest as if I could absorb the words straight into my heart. I was in love with the written word, the characters of someone else’s imagination, and the fantastic worlds they lived in. That hasn’t changed–I still love books. What’s changed is how I read them.

These days, everything is different. It’s not so much about the stories anymore, it’s about everything surrounding them: the series, the author, the website, the merchandise lines, the quizzes and games, events, book signings… And in all the shuffle, the book itself is an afterthought. When I walk into a bookstore, I see the front display filled with more calendars and novelty items than actual books. I peruse the shelves, but with so many of them, there’s never enough time to truly savor the sight. I feel overwhelmed for an entirely different reason: too many choices. Too many books and authors I’ve never heard of. Too little time to learn.

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So if I happen upon a book that looks interesting, I snap a picture with my phone, and look it up on the internet when I get home. I read the blurb, check out the reviews (something I never would have done before), try the sample, maybe look at the author’s website. If I like what I see, I buy the eBook version. I rarely pass up a book by my favorites, regardless of price, and I rarely turn my nose up at a freebie. All of this results in hundreds of titles stored on my computer, in my email, and on my Kindle reader, and it all resembles the bookstores that overwhelm me. Except now, all those books are at my fingertips to read at a moment’s notice, which makes it even worse.

I’ve discovered that unless I start reading a new book right away, I forget I ever got it. It sits among my files for months, even years, and by the time I finally get to it (by random happenstance of having tapped on the wrong title) I no longer have any interest in cracking it open. By impulse-buying dozens of titles, I devalue them to myself; I have so many, I couldn’t possibly care so much about all of them.

I carry entire libraries of novels in my backpack every day, but they might as well be a black hole for all I know about the titles. I can read a book in a day or two, instead of the week or two it took me with a paper book, but I lose much of the depth from the experience. Sure, I can still love it, but I can’t see the beautiful cover unless I select it. I can’t fan through the pages, open them at a random place, and sigh over a beloved scene. I can’t see my dog-eared pages at a glance. I can’t see anything, really, except what’s right there on the screen. And hugging a Kindle to my chest somehow feels… impersonal.

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When I read, I absorb books directly into my long term memory and skip over the immediate savoring part because it just goes by too quickly. It almost makes me feel nostalgic even while I’m reading the book, as if it’s already behind me. I’m reading lives away, creating a library of forgotten dreams, and every new one is just one more old memory to make in an instant.

Now, lest I get too depressing, here’s the flip side of that. Sometimes I want to glut. As a writer, reading gets my creative juices flowing, and the more I read, the more they flow, so the faster I can read, the faster I can break down those annoying writer’s blocks and do what I love best. And sometimes it’s nice to immerse myself in worlds I already know.

Yes, seeing the dog-eared pages still touches my heart, but reading the story through from the beginning puts them into context; immerses me back in that world, the feeling behind every word, and the sheer intensity of their meaning–both for the story and for me personally. And I always have those favorites with me, wherever I go. If I see something or hear something that reminds me of one of them, I can just open it right there on my Kindle. In that sense, eReaders are the modern equivalent of magic looking glasses.

I’ll always love books for allowing me to live a thousand different lives inside their pages, and I know that, especially in this New Age of technology and 1.5-second attention spans, that’s extremely rare. I want to savor each word I read, and I want my readers to have that same experience with my books. If even one person out there has marked even one sentence in any of my books, if even one copy out there has a page lovingly folded down at the corner, I can truly consider myself a successful writer. So, if you do pick up one of my titles, all I ask is that you take the time to truly read it.  If you like it, great. If not, that’s okay, too. Because Ray Bradbury was right:  “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

So I’ll make you a deal: Keep reading–anything and everything–and I’ll keep writing. And maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. 🙂

Until next time!

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3 thoughts on “The (Non-)Reading Habits of the Terminally Distracted

  1. Desiree B

    Good post!

    I’ll have to agree with you on the hordes of books on kindle part. I can’t pass up a good book (especially if it’s free), but I don’t get to all of them. However, I like the thought of having my own personal library. It comes in handy when I’m in the mood for something new.

    • Alianne

      Exactly! 🙂 I always tell myself I will clean it up, but then I think, what if I wanna read those books later? It’s a vicious cycle…

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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