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Returning to Reading

October 27, 2022 am31 7:04 am

I stopped reading. It’s been a long time since I’ve routinely opened a magazine, or regularly opened a book, and just read.

Not completely. I subscribe to two weekly magazines, and one monthly, and from time to time I would look at the cartoons. Or even read an article, or two. And I occasionally read a chapter from a book. Even less often, a whole book. A whole book – that had become very very infrequent.

I still scanned the screen of my laptop, desktop, or phone. But I don’t think that should count.

By “reading” I do not mean just the process of translate the pixels into the letters, letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into ideas. I mean picking up the reading material, sitting down, falling into the story, getting absorbed. I mean turning the page, dog-earing the page, rereading a passage. I mean what I used to do, and what I have more or less stopped doing.

And so, since the end of June, I’ve been trying to address that, to get back to reading. I had the summer – but I have always had summers. This one was different – I passed the programming responsibilities to someone else. I came in July 7, and then once more to clear out my stuff. I answered a few emails. But my summer was mine. I also did not have planning. I am on “terminal leave” – likely retiring in the coming weeks or months, and I am not currently working. The summer was really mine.

I hardly remember what it was like to read. To really read. To read every day. We lost newspapers – barely reading, but a daily habit. On-line isn’t the same. What is it like to find a quiet spot, a sunbeam, and lean back… What is like to pore over a piece of non-fiction, grappling with a new or difficult concept? I last really read non-fiction, not just a book here or there, but regularly, about a decade ago. The feel is faded, but not altogether forgotten. But fiction? Having a story come to life in my hands, slowly unfold. Meeting characters, and learning about them, and feeling hope or worry or joy for them… I don’t remember this. It has been too long.

This is bad. It is embarrassing. So what to do? Obviously, start reading. But it was not as easy for me as it sounds. I had lost the habit.

So I began with magazines. Magazine articles are generally shorter. Of my weeklies, the Economist is easier. In these seventeen weeks I have not read every issue, but I’ve read most of most of them. They are not very satisfying. But I am rebuilding a habit. The New Yorker is tougher. I usually get through the Talk of the Town, or choose which don’t look interesting to skip. But the feature articles? Sometimes. Am I up to at least one longer article in every issue? Nope. Every other issue? Maybe I’m getting close. Oh, and fiction? Even when I was a reader, I rarely read The New Yorker’s fiction. Maybe one day, but not soon. Scientific American is one a month, and the articles are challenging. I have had greater difficulty even opening them up (though unlike the other two, I do not discard SciAm, even when it is old). But Tuesday I read a chunk of the current issue, including a fascinating story about the structure (and possible demise) of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica – bad news for sea level. (Thwaites I mean to look up – it’s also the name of a teensy street in the Bronx. In my fourth year teaching I had a student, Masha with red hair whose last name I remember but won’t write, lived on Thwaites Place. It was a Course II section for kids whose first language was not English, and it was in Room 450, she sat left of center, I think second row.) OK, so magazine progress – real, but not too impressive.

The real challenge has been books. I tried. I opened a volume at home, on a train, on a plane, and quickly lost focus. I tried a few times. Same result. But this is important. Through early July, nothing. And then I went away on a big trip. That’s where I had the plane and train rides. And I got sick. (not from reading. There’s a pandemic.) And in the rest of the August I didn’t get much done.

So I thought it over, and I came up with a plan. If I couldn’t sit the way I used to, if I couldn’t get sucked into hours of reading, then I would need to adjust how I was trying to read.

I chose a group of books. Mostly non-fiction. Some history. Some education. Some math. Other stuff. And a read a few pages from one, put it down. And then I pick up or don’t pick up) another. I have been keeping four or five in play at a time. And know what? I am slowly, steadily, making progress. From early September I have completed several books, and am making progress on others. And it is gradually becoming, once again, an every day activity, one that I look forward to.

Baby steps. I’ll write more about reading. I should say a couple of words about what I have finished, and what I am working. And I need to confirm that this “return to reading” has stuck.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2022 pm31 8:07 pm 8:07 pm

    Hi Jonathan 

    Have you tried the Atlantic? Their stories are superb I hope you’re well. I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thank you for continuing to post. BethWise 


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    • October 27, 2022 pm31 9:17 pm 9:17 pm

      I used to read the Atlantic, and still see some of their articles on line. It’s well-written, but I don’t like the editorial slant. I’m doing ok with The New Yorker, The Economist, and Scientific American. Getting back in the swing…

      Thanks for the thoughts

  2. October 27, 2022 pm31 8:39 pm 8:39 pm

    I’m not going to tell you how long ago, but long ago I ran into the same problem. I never read fiction so I chose to do all of Oprah’s books (the first list, not her lists now, which are all meh; the first list is classic stuff now). I did it, too. Some on audiobooks when I drove. I’m reading regularly again. Write reviews occasionally. I keep my Goodreads updated. And I love it. I love thinking about the book I am currently reading when I’m doing something else, or making connections about the book and what I am doing or seeing.

    • October 28, 2022 am31 10:29 am 10:29 am

      Sorry to hear you were once in this boat! I think I am finding a different way out – but like you – once I get back – I plan on keeping reading.

      It’s a good habit.


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