Why I read …

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Why I Blog (please add your reasons, too, as it helps me in my own reflections). Last night, as I was reading the essay by Nicholas Carr entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the Best Technology Writing of 2009 (I know I know — everyone else in the world has read it and discussed it. I’m late for the party), I realized that much of the argument being made by Carr is similar to what I have been experiencing with reading lately. Still, something about his reasoning did not quite sit right with me.

But, why do I read? And is my presence on the web impacting my reading habits?

I’ve been a reader since I can remember and spent much of my childhood curled up next to books. I’d read voraciously and in all kinds of genre, although my favorite was and still is good science fiction. (There is plenty of bad science fiction). I read because it transformed me into other places, through the eyes of other characters. I could escape. I could explore, and I could do it alone. This appealed to me as a reader.

Carr, in The Atlantic piece, suggests that our reading on the Internet has become that of “power skimmer,” cruising across the surface of information as opposed to going deep into one thing. Carr admits there are benefits to this (he is a freelance writer and so he now has a world of information at his keyboard) but he worries that this kind of reading is rewiring our brains in a way that is making sustained deep reading more and more difficult. The joy of being lost in a test for long stretches of time are fewer and fewer, he writes. His metaphor is that of someone jet skiing over the top of the ocean as opposed to scuba diving down into the world below.

So here is where I found an echo in my own thinking lately.

This past year, more than most, I have started and abandoned an alarming number of novels. I’ve tried to keep my interest up, gotten far enough to know it was not just laziness and then, poof, decided that the book was not worth my time. I’d toss it aside, and then worry: am I losing my skills¬† as a reader? Can I no longer sustain my attention? Carr suggests, yes, and puts some of the blame on my brain being rewired by my time on the computer.

I’ve also delved into graphic novels and one thing I do like about them is that I can finish them in short bursts. I love the intersection of art and writing, but I can’t help but wonder if the ability to read a graphic novel in a day or two isn’t part of the appeal for me (and for others, perhaps).

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if I am just being more judicious in what I read and have less patience for what I consider bad writing. I used to feel an obligation to finish a book when I started it, as if I owed the writer something (even though I paid the money for the words). It’s possible, too, that technology has made me a more engaged reader, in that I think I know what I want and I am reading more and more kinds of writing.

The world of words is open farther than ever before and I don’t have to sit still when I am not being moved by a writer’s craft. I may have an obligation as a reader to immerse myself into the writer’s head, but the writer has an obligation to give me a path there that I can believe in. In some ways, technology makes me see this relationship in a new light — at blogs and other sites, I can engage with writers and books directly. My expectations as a reader have changed.

Life is too short for feeling like I am stuck in a book just because I cracked it open and my time, too valuable. I want a book that engages and entertains me, not bores me. As I get older (more a factor than my use of technology, I am convinced), I am less likely to remain patience with books that don’t engage me.

I read because I want to be inspired. The moments when I put down a book and think, “My Gosh, that was an incredible journey,”¬† may be few and far between, but when they happen, they are like thundershots in the night and spur me on as writer. (The last book to that was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer).

A good book makes me want to run out and write. Just as I wrote about why I blog, I read because I am a writer.

Peace (in the books),

Kevin

2 Comments
  1. Reading, for the love of reading I moved away from my passion for history and became a high school English teacher. It took me years to embrace the writing side of me and my profession. But reading as a kid was my breathing. I lived to get inside a book. I tolerated Math homework to get to the dessert- a new book, although never Sci Fi.(sorry Kevin)
    My passion for reading was felt by every student that came to sit in my classroom. Some joined in, some left respectful, some just thought I was insane.
    And as I got older, became a writer, discovered the web, I have been reading less and like you Kevin, I don’t stick with books to the end. Yes, of course some make the cut. Maybe I’m more selective because time is more finite.
    One wonderful thing needs to be factored into my reading in the modern world- MY KINDLE! From day one, it has made reading for me, more focused. I am not distracted by the number of words on a page. I am reading faster and more efficiently. Right now I have a dozen new titles to sample. Almost everything can be found in the Amazon library and with healthy competition to the Kindle it will only get better. For a long time I could never find ed books, but right after I saw that you were reading The Best Tech Stories of 2009, and searched for it at the Kindle Store- yes, there it was and in seconds, I had the first chapters to sample.
    So I read to walk in the shoes of characters created by wonderful writers. It doesn’t always happen, but right now, I am totally inside The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingslover (after a bit of patience) and when I take a break, I am reading tech.
    I should be a poster child for Amazon’s Kindle!

  2. Kevin, I hope and pray we teachers keep these thoughts front and center as we encourage our students to read. Many probably go through the same pull/push with readings. We need to recognize this and help out – providing models and options. Technology is at least as powerful a factor in this changing process as age… imho…

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