The Dying Art of Reading

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

grew up next to a library. It was a second home. There was no greater joy than jay-walking across the busy road after school, throwing caution to the wind, because I was eager to discover what new world awaited me beyond those heavy glass doors.

The section of the library I frequented was subject to change. Most often, it was a result of age, otherwise, it was a product of a exploration into a new topic. After looking through the options, 10–12 books would make the cut before I’d waddle my way over to the red leather couch to shuffle through the initial chapters to ensure that they were books I’d want to read. More often than not, the list would dwindle to around 5–8 by the time the transaction with my library card was complete but it would often fluctuate. A statement I can confidently assert is that it was a rare event for the every initial book I chose to have made the final cohort of selected books.

Unlike my reading tastes, the aura of the library was always the same. A constant. People all nearby but their minds were so far away. Younger me always found the socially acceptable rule of keeping volume to a minimum in the library so as to not disrupt others strange. What logic was there in that? The library’s inhabitant’s gazes were transfixed to their pages. They were there but they were also not. You could throw a book at them, and not be met with an unfriendly response. These people would eventually return, but for a couple of hours, all that remained was the husk of the person for the mind was elsewhere.

Not everyone is easily as captivated by the allure of a story. Many of my friends have told me that they have fallen asleep reading a book, and to that I respond: “well, so have I”. We, for some reason, see this as a personal fault on our end for failing to wrangle out and absorb every last drop of knowledge and wisdom from a book. There is no shame in not finishing nor falling into slumber midway or even from the very beginning. Stories do not need to be completed in order to appreciate it or gain invaluable insight, you’ve been exposed to this concept before, it’s why the iconic line to be continued exists.

The ideology that conclusion and closure is necessary is damaging to the passion of reading. Many force themselves to delve deeper into the realm of a story they do not find excitement in, and then blame it on themselves, bashfully claiming that reading is not for them. I never believe people who say that because it is to some extent a lie. (although, I cannot fault them for that because their lie is simply a result of misguided interpretation) Our perception of something is dependent on individual circumstances. If you only watched Netflix shows you disliked, your overall experience with the streaming service would be poor. You would blame Netflix as a whole for a unsatisfactory selection of shows when in reality what should be held accountable, would be your inability to choose a show of preference and switch shows when your intrigue begins to slacken.

Or maybe it isn’t an inability to select a book in the domain of a preferred topic but in a outright unwillingness to. This sounds paradoxical — why would someone avoid reading a book they’d like to read? Don’t we read for enjoyment among other things? I believe this phenomenon is wrapped up in a perceived superiority for some book subjects and inferiority for others, and this namely targets fiction and nonfiction. While absorbing knowledge and intaking information is one of the main functions books have to offer, I don’t believe cultivating empathy to be a lesser benefit. There isn’t a more invasive way and thorough method to understand people who are different from you, than to live their lives for a couple of hours. You’ll become more fluent in the language of people and that in itself is extremely powerful.

What we must also actively look out for which can be harmful to productive reading is an over emphasis on goals and only viewing books for what you can extract from it rather than a experience. We as humans love stories and learning, they co-exist. What splendor lies in constant evaluation and worry over the depth of your knowledge and the intake you’ve received while reading? None. There is a certain experience that occurs only when you’re truly invested in a good book, your mind must be only concentrated on the words the author has weaved into worlds, if you are distracted by something as trivial as whether you should be reading a denser book, or how many pages you have left so you can finish your reading goal, it will not happen. The marvel of the read snaps in half.

Ironically, the hyperawareness of what you can gain from reading is a detractor. Setting goals for improvement in comprehension, speed, vocabulary, and reading level will stimulate growth while background noise that too heavily focuses on measuring that growth will uproot any love for getting lost in a book.

For those who may still not be so convinced, I’ll appeal to our genetics. As humans, it is simply in our nature to love stories. Our ancient ancestors passed down spoken stories, which were repeated and shared further with generations and generations, and soon story telling evolved into writing.

With all this in mind, you may be feeling sudden and great zeal to try again. To delve head first into what you’ve been falsely led to believe you disliked, and that is quite convenient! Read further to discover how to get started, no matter how deeply embedded your hate may be for prolonged periods of concentration. That’s just the surface level. You won’t believe the things that you’re about to experience, the lives that you’ll be able to live, and the places you’ll explore. That’s the magic.

Adjust your reading topics to match your interests

This isn’t too daunting of a task if you don’t feel coerced to select a story you’re not interested in. Reflect on your hobbies and interests, if you’re a movie buff seeking to adapt to the book versions, take a glance at the shows and movies you’ve recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed. What genres are they in? What elements of the show/movie made it entertaining? Maybe you’ve binge watched all the nature documentaries on your TV recently, perhaps you should look into the nature and wildlife section of your library.

Connect with friends for book clubs

There’s many advantages to this. It creates accountability, invokes a sense of community because while reading is an individual experience, once you’ve finished the book, there are other readers eager to discuss. If you’re indecisive in the selection process, it also serves as a guidance to what your next read should be. To add to this: when we read, the thoughts and ideas that are conceived are unique, you might be able to hear a fascinating insight that you hadn’t taken into consideration before.

Libby: a resource for reading

Readers are not a dying breed; the way we read and the resources we source books from have simply been updated. I do maintain that while it’s far more convenient, electronic copies lack something that the physical copies have. Visiting the library in person can never truly be replaced by the advent of technology, but in times of COVID-19: my go-to reading app is Libby by Overdrive. It’s free to use, and operates as any library does. You may either enter your library card in use with your local library, or register for a library card with your phone number. Books have a twenty-one day time frame to take out on your account, and you may also place a hold if you’re willing to wait for a popular book. The scope of the books available promises that there’s a story for everyone.

Look for book recommendations

  • Visit sites online.
  • Watch book reviews.
  • Take a trip to your local book store.
  • Browse through what Libby and what other online book resources have to offer.
  • Do a book swap with friends.
  • Sign up for my newsletter where I share my monthly reading list and what I’ve been working on: https://www.subscribepage.com/d4m6w4

With all this in mind, it is my greatest hope that this article has induced you to visit the library again. We all deserve to live more than once, but for now, that can only be possible through getting lost in a story.

Writer of technology-centric articles.