Friday, May 1, 2015

Forgetting How to Read

Recently a facebook friend shared an article -- you know, the vaguely alarming sort warning us of the horrible effects of our screen-world -- about how we're all forgetting how to read. We're incapable of long periods of concentration. Our digital lives are apparently robbing us of one of our oldest pleasures, paper books.

I was worried. I know my own reading habits -- half-hearted, fluffy, sporadic. I read for 15 minutes before drifting into sleep each night. I remember, in high school and college, reading a novel for hours, deeply engrossed in the story, the luxurious but painful fog that results when the book-world is done on the last page.

I hadn't read like that for years. Was my computer-life killing my book-life? Was it simply age? Was it maturity that morphed me from a fiction reader to a reader of biographies and personal accounts? Was it simply life, and raising four children and working and moving and facing the bright sunlight each day ... was that what turned me into a non-reader?

Does reading snatches of ideas, rants, what-I-ate-for-dinners, and happy blogposts count as real reading? Somehow I thought not. There is no immersion in such reading, no emotional involvement of the imagination, no willing suspension of disbelief. I feel no long-lasting quiver of delicious satisfaction when I snap my laptop closed, as I used to feel when finishing a good novel.

When we dashed to the beach last week I needed a book. I went to my dusty shelves and pulled one, Howard's End. I'd read it in college, which means I remember nothing of the book at all. I've seen the movie with Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and Helen Bonham-Carter several times, but that (as we all know) means absolutely nothing. That's some director's and actors' version of a plot line. It has nothing to do with E.M. Forster's words, his style, his mind, his brilliance. They cannot be transferred to a screen.

What a delight it's been to read again! I still love a novel, and I thought I didn't. In fact, I appreciate Forster's genius more, and can discern it better in the text, than I could 30 years ago. Eight years of college and graduate school nearly robbed me of the delight of fiction reading because it was my forced diet. And ten years of high school English teaching nearly did the same. But now I can graze like a skittish cow again, returning to pastures long missed.

So I haven't forgotten how to read, I'm thankful to say. This morning, our last morning of formal homeschooling this year, I woke at 6:00, perched my reading glasses on my nose, rolled sideways in my warm bed, and read Howard's End for two hours. Now I'll go read some more.


  1. Once a reader always a reader? I loved Forster. I loved his concept of the Muddle. I relate so much to that! Again I haven't read him in decades. Time is the thief and not technology? Though I'm asking your question in regard to the boys as much as to me. Would they be better, more sustained readers if they weren't children of the digital age? Or would they always have been reluctant readers and should I be grateful that they do sometimes read,and love, a good book? Maybe both.

  2. Great post, MK! While Bill is away this week I plan to read deep, my favorite!

  3. I am guilty of not reading like I once did. I learned to read (real books) as an adult. I've got one book going that is taking me forever, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Another book that is easy reading that I think I'll complete soon. The outdoors takes me away from book reading. I'm encouraged to hear that you've not lost your reading edge!

  4. Hooray for real reading! I am a bookworm and a word nerd and proud of it. Television, computers, and ipads can't hold a candle to it. I unplugged myself from tv about 30 years ago except for re-runs of "The Andy Griffith Show" and "I Love Lucy". I am far more productive away from screens!

  5. I love reading. But I find that life is so rushed these days, that I often feel guilty for sitting for an hour or two to "just" read. I also don't read at night. If I try that, I find I end up reading well into the early hours, and sometimes even all night. Not good the next day!!

  6. I have to say that computer life has certainly robbed me of a certain amount of reading but I still devour books since I have an hour's train journey's worth a day and also before bed, when drinking a cup of tea when I get home from work. Managed to read about 9 books this month so far. I wonder what it would be without blogging.
    Glad you enjoyed Howard's End. I've not read it and must!x

  7. I find myself reading more biographies as I get older. I love peeking into other people's lives. I guess I must love fiction, too. My Kindle is stuffed with Jane Austen, but also a much larger stash of non-fiction. My husband was not an avid reader and I always felt like I was neglecting him if I read for long periods. So, I think I got out of the habit. I also find myself asking, "Okay, I would love to spend hours reading this particular book, but how much time have I spent in God's Word?" Rhetorical question! So, I'm struggling with prioritizing my reading and finding a lot of guilt attached to recreational reading. I would probably have all kinds of time for the Bible and some great fiction if I ignored Facebook! But then I'd miss out on...very little actually. My kids spend very little time on there. They must have REAL LIVES! Ha ha! Thanks for giving me permission to read, MK! :)

  8. What an encouraging story, M.K. I'm so happy that you tested yourself and found things even better than you imagined. I agree, there's no substitute for "deep reading," and I am comforted by the many possibilities I have stacked all over the place here.

  9. I just finished the first eight chapters of Three...Against...the Dark! Mwahaha! It's a real page turner...but I'd better go to bed now. Thanks, MK. Great idea, this reading thing. ;)

  10. I've always been an avid reader, that is until I discovered the internet, or should I say blogging,, I have also been thinking about doing less computer reading and more hands on reading! Thanks for the encouragement!.


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