As a writer, I shouldn’t be asking this question.
Yet here I am, asking it anyway.
Why do I read?
I thought I knew the answer to this.
I read in order to learn things; to understand things; to enjoy things.
I read to discover what I’ve yet to discover, and in so doing, unravel life’s many mysteries.
I read to feel like I have some control over what’s going on around me, and around the world. Cos reading bestows knowledge and wisdom, no?
To be well-read is such a status-conferring thing too, isn’t it? You nearly always get a slightly more respectful look from others when you start expounding intelligently on how much you know, based on your latest reading. And you may even get an awestruck look, if you say you’re a scholar in all the classic literature. (Or maybe it’s really a glazed look!)
But the truth is, if I lay claim to all of the above today, I’m nothing but…
…a reading ‘fraud’!
Of late, that’s how I feel about my reading. I just don’t read for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a stretch (on my good days!). And I don’t stick to the same stuff most of the time, but flit from one read to another, sometimes in the same sitting!
Outcome? I got no further than page 7!
Prior to that, I had also checked out White Teeth, after being blown away by author Zadie Smith at last year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival (I even blogged about it). Not forgetting Hilary Mantel‘s “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and other stories“.
Result? Barely got past page 5 for the former and never even got started on the latter!
Bottom line? I just can’t seem to sit through a book from start to finish anymore. The book can be opened before me with the promise of new knowledge, or an escape into another world with lots of excitement and adventure. Yet, by the time I’ve turned a page, my attention’s also turned somewhere else.
To a random thought, or an incomplete task from the day before which I’m still mulling over.
To the sound of a ping from my phone, with the prospect of a new message from an old friend.
Or my attention could just be turned to a desire to view an episode of another Disney+ TV series (cheaper than Netflix!). And now that these TV episodes are shorter and shorter, catering of course to our shorter and shorter attention spans (boo to us all!), lazy binge-watching has become so much easier too!
My reading “why”, ain’t strong enough no more!
Come to think of it, those last two points might well be the real culprits.
After all, screen times don’t require much effort, unlike reading, where we must recreate in our minds the visuals and motions described in the text.
Unfortunately, in today’s highly instant and digitalised world, that’s just too much work!
For the longest time now, I’ve accepted this state of affairs to a large degree. Part of my coping mechanism was accepting that this is the “new me”, the “new world order” where people will (if they read at all) pour over more than one piece of reading at a time.
With no guarantee that they’ll finish any one of them!
So that’s how it’s become for me as well.
I’ve even gone back to books I’ve read before, “milking” the value and pleasure of re-reading for all its worth. But only because they don’t take as much effort (since I already know the story well); I can even zoom in on the interesting parts immediately cos I know exactly where they are.
When I read now, the prose must be short and sharp. And the shorter the chapters, the better. Then I can break off anytime I want, rather than trudge through to the long and seemingly-arduous ending.
In short: what used to be ‘restful’ (long form reading), has now become ‘restless’ for me, making me believe I’ve forever lost my purpose, my “why”, for reading!
Which is why I feel like I’ve become a reading “fraud” of sorts. What used to be pleasurable and restful just doesn’t feel so now as much as it used to. And though every now and then I can still wolf down thick tomes like former US President Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land“, or his wife’s “Becoming” (only because both were excellent reads), I still feel like my best days of restful reading are firmly behind me!
As a final, almost ‘desperate’, bid to recapture my “lost youth”, I’ve even switched to YA (young adult) fiction recently! Reading David Leviathan‘s bestsellers Every Day (which was made into a movie) and its sequel Someday, proved to be light and easy, yet interesting enough to hold my attention from start to end.
Imagine that? Reading books meant for people more than half my age!!
Hmm…or maybe that’s my new “why” for reading? To ‘connect’ with my soon-to-be teenage sons?
Looks like the mystery of my restless reading journey continues to unfold.