I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, one book after the other, each word churning in my head rapidly after the one before it. Rarely do I read a book all the way through before I have the rabid need to switch to the next, not because I find the subject matter of one particularly book uninteresting per se, but more that it sparks my interest in another subject that dovetails and I want to switch back to another book that I had been reading previously. It’s why I tend to be reading a minimum of three books at once and it’s also why I tend to have a heavy backpack — I never know which book I’m going to be in the mood to read.
I should note that this is primarily a phenomenon that takes place in the case of nonfiction books. Nonfiction is much easier to parse out and much easier to stop reading than a fiction book. Most of the nonfiction that I read tends to be sorted into neat chapters, often with subheadings within the chapters. If not there are at least segments that the book is broken up by, whether that is because it is a collection of essays or because it is a biography highlighted by seasons of a life, or a historical text broken up into eras and locales. Whichever the case may be, I find it very easy to come to a natural stopping point when reading a nonfiction book.
Such is not the case when reading fiction.
When I’m reading a work of fiction, I often feel like I’m on a rollercoaster ride, where there is no stopping, and there is no getting off. Even books that I dislike I often find myself continuing to read because my insatiable curiosity means that I need to know how it ends, no matter how much I dislike the text. I can count on one hand with fingers left over the amount of fiction books I have left unfinished in the past five years. Fiction, at least for me, is something read in usually one, at most two to three sittings. I never start a fiction book if I don’t think I’ll have time to finish it within the next day or two.
Nonfiction, on the other hand, can linger on with a bookmark halfway through for months, if not years. Sometimes it gets to the point where I straight up forget what has gotten me to the point where I’m at, so I double back and reread the beginning and just start from the top with a book.
The trick I’ve found to reading, is to never read myself to sleep. If I read myself to sleep, I will forevermore associate that book with exhaustion, and never finish it because the very sight of them prompts exhaustion. (To this day, I have never finished David Copperfield.)
Sometimes I wonder what the point of reading is. Why do I read? Certainly I get a certain amount of pleasure out of it, but what about the reading is pleasurable? I suppose that depends on the context of the book. When I’m reading fiction it is because I find the plot and or the characters compelling. When I’m reading nonfiction I’m often seeking some sort of knowledge. I constantly want to learn more, because I never feel as though I am educated enough on really any given subject. I’m constantly reading because I’m constantly filled with the burning need to know more to understand more about the way the world works and about my place in it, based upon the history of how those who have come before me have shaped the world. Perhaps books are the best way to do that and perhaps they aren’t, but books are the way that I am most used to interacting with history and interfacing with realities other than my own.
There is a saying that knowledge is power, and there are numerous ways to interpret that sentence and its sentiment, but the way that I have it framed in my mind is that the more knowledge I have of the world and of myself the more power I have over how I interact with my reality. Wisdom isn’t something that can be handed over outright or learned from a book, but something developed over time by interaction and experience. In order to interface with that experience, though, I need a context, and I find that books often give me that context.
That said, one of the most stressful disappointments of my life has been the slower rate at which I read post-concussion and the fact that my mental faculties are no longer at the level they once were. The fact that I have permanently damaged my brain because of a bedframe and a vacuum cleaner makes me angry and frustrated in ways that I find hard to describe without bursting into tears. Things could be a lot worse for me, but of my three major symptoms that still affect me three years later — worsened vision, headaches/nausea with exposed screentime, and slowed reading speed/reduced focus while reading — I have to say that the slowed reading speed really is the worst. I’ve always had bad vision, and getting a stronger prescription wasn’t too much of hardship. It’s probably for the best that I have a built-in screentime limit since computers are supposedly generally bad for people anyway. But all my life reading has been my lifeblood, and the speed at which and voracity with which I read has been a point of pride for me throughout my life, so my reduced reading speed and my lack of focus when reading these days utterly sucks. I mean, like I said in my opening paragraph, I’ve always gotten distracted while reading sometimes, because reading sparks in me the desire to engage with multiple materials. But aside from that I’ve been feeling my focus slide off of pages even when I want to stay engaged in material that is otherwise thrilling. And it makes me so. mad.
But I digress.
What I’m really trying to get at here is that for me, reading is one of the most dynamic and intricate ways I have of interacting with the world, and so I place reading incredibly high on the list of things that I value. I know that not everyone feels this way, and no two people read in the same way or have the same experience, even with the same book in hand. All the same, some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been about reading and books, and that’s part of why I’m so eager to work in the publishing industry. Books really are magic, and they transform lives in ways that can hardly be articulated. (That said, if all the posts I’ve written about reading are any indication, that hasn’t stopped me from trying.)