The Act of Reading

The pixels are still warm on my post about Cummingswrites, and here I am writing about reading. Such is life.

At the start of the new year, I tried a little experiment with my reading habits. Feeling a need to disconnect from the digital, I switched to reading only paper books. There are many reasons to make this switch, but here’s a handful of the ones that I muttered to myself:

  • You cannot escape that when you hold a book, you know you’re holding it. There’s something about that weight in your hands, the visible progress as the pages left begin to thin in comparison to the pages read.
  • Not everything’s digital. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t popularize enough to digitize, or maybe the rights aren’t available. Whatever the reason, there are actually books that aren’t available for downloadable purchase. Shocker.
  • We have a used bookstore nearby. Half-Price books has been wonderful for finding treasures. Granted, it’s not only the closest bookstore, it’s the only bookstore in the area. We live in a desert of brick and mortar books (unless you’re looking for religious tracts or new age manifests, which I am not).

At first, things were grand. I had (and still partially have) a stack of books to read. What could go wrong? As it turns out, I’m spoiled, and that was the beginning of my downfall.

  • The first thing I didn’t anticipate was the weight of it all. Most books I read fall somewhere between 300 and 1,000 pages. When your laptop is already back-breaking, adding the weight of a heavy book along with all of the other trappings¬†of commuting – well, you begin to look for things you can drop from your back. Sitting or standing on the BART is fine, but you also have to carry that for the walk. Bah. I wasn’t up for it is the short of it.
  • I also quickly learned the pain of misplacing a book. As it turned out, it was hidden in my backpack, but not after spending days thinking I’d lost the book. With digital books, I have them synched across most of my devices. Misplace a device? Use another, it’ll pick up right where you left off.
  • A not inconsiderable factor: satisfying the Yearning, that mood, that itch needing scratched, that compels to me to drop whatever I’m reading and pursue something. Eleven at night is not an ideal time to go to a bookstore, if there was one, and if it was even open. ¬†But in this digital age, for all its faults, we can at least download samples to see if a book will satisfy our craving.

And so I ultimately failed the paper only diet. Spoiled, perhaps, but I just can’t forgo using digital books in my life. Wiser friends have pointed out that it’s possible to read both formats – some paper, some digital. I call witchcraft. And concede that that is probably my path too.

For this reading challenge, I challenged the format I read. Next, I think I want to challenge what I’m reading. For too long, my diet has been like the country western bar in Blues Brothers (the original movie – no remakes over here!). I’ve subsisted on a diet of two closely bound genres for too long. It is high time for some exposure, some broadening of the mind.

Some non-fiction.

Yeah, I said it – non-fiction. Books about real things with real people – or at least involving real people, though that won’t always be the case (I can think of a few pure science books that won’t even involve humans except as a footnote). I can’t say whether reading non-fiction will be my only diet – as in the case of trying to read only physical books, the path to success is one tempered in moderation, I suspect. I believe the health nuts call this a balance. Pffft. But we’ll see. New ideas expressed in new ways, about real things? Tell me more.

Because I’m enjoying this writing thing. Sure, I’ve been trying it for over a decade now, but I really feel like I’m starting to settle into my groove with it. But reading (what feels like) the same tropes repeated over and over can only result in fiction inspired to retread the same tropes. The argument that there are only so many stories, and we’re all just retelling the same story in different ways.

But then I look at humanity, and all of the different and fascinating – and horrific, and beautiful, and mesmerizing – things we do, and I figure, there has to be a few more stories out there we haven’t written down yet.

So maybe this post was about writing after all – because reading helps us find the stories that we tell each other.