Hi, my name is Katherine, and I… am not a reader anymore.
I came to this realization a few days ago, and it has triggered something of an identity crisis. Being a reader is a part of me in the same way that being a woman is part of me, or being Canadian. It’s defining to my sense of self. It’s something I’m proud of.
And yet, I don’t sit down to read a book anymore. Not a paper book, not an e-book. Not regularly. Not like I used to.
I used to stay up past my bedtime to keep reading. Just to the end of the page… just to the end of the chapter… just five more minutes… I knew the exact cadence of the creak in the stairs, and I could time it exactly so that I switched out my light before my dad could see it as he rounded the corner at the top of the stairs.
I got caught in grade five reading By The Shores of Silver Lake (one of the Little House on the Prairie books) under my desk when I should have been doing schoolwork. I was so ashamed of getting caught that it was years before I could pick the book up again.
When my father told me my grandfather died, I ran upstairs and picked up my book and kept reading until I could stop crying.
Books were my escape. Always.
When my mom and my stepfather moved us from the city where I grew up out to a house in the middle of nowhere, the little local library was my saviour. I didn’t mind the countryside so much, but I did not like my stepfather. We drove into town on Saturday mornings to run errands, and I camped out in the library while my mom went grocery shopping. I always left with a stack of books and spent the whole weekend reading.
My mom doesn’t believe me when I tell her I’m not a fast reader. She remembers the stacks of books I used to go through. But it’s not that I read quickly, I just read a LOT.
As an adult, I have spent a lot of time travelling or relocating for my job, and I always drag a stack of books with me.
It’s just that recently I haven’t actually been reading them. I keep buying new books, because I still believe I am a reader, but they end up languishing in my to-read pile. There just doesn’t seem to be any time.
The internet has become my one giant, insidious time suck. I waste hours just noodling around, either falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, or planning my next trip, or reading about writing. It’s not that I’m not learning things, not accomplishing anything, necessarily. It’s just that I seem to be able to wander in Internet limbo indefinitely. And often with the television on in the background.
An additional consequence of stewing in this glut of stimuli is that my attention span is in tatters. I, who used to be able to read the same book all afternoon, cannot focus on anything for more than five minutes without checking my email, or Facebook, or my WordPress stats.
So today I forced myself to read. That, as a thought, feels so wrong, so alien. As though I had to force myself to be Canadian. I took my book and went for brunch. Then after my errands were done, I curled up in my armchair with a blanket, a cat, and a cup of tea and read for two hours. It was wonderful. It felt like home.
I don’t get to call myself a reader again until the book it my unconscious go-to rather than the internet or the television. But I least I recognise the problem now.