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On Reading

Marc on 2020-04-12

Coffee cup

Reading used to be a true passion of mine; scouring local libraries, attending book clubs, and tearing through series in days was the norm. But that changed about 8 years ago as I moved into high-school; spending the day staring at textbooks, dealing with a mounting pile of homework and grinding through mandatory reading that failed to spark any joy; I fell out of favour with reading and turned to other interests like photography and games.

It wouldn't be until 2018 that I finished my first proper novel in years, Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, with it's chilling dissection of the darker side of excessive consumerism; I found myself becoming acquainted with this sense of awe at the emotional impact books could have that I had been missing for years if not completely forgotten.

I began searching for my next read.

What followed was a somewhat staggered reintroduction to the world of literature, Stephen King's The Shining and George Orwell's Animal Farm offered an excellent means of re-establishing why I'd loved books but I was working through novels at nowhere near the pace or with the same focus I once had. Besides, video games and YouTube still seemed far more alluring given how easy they were to zone out and get lost in.

This period of slowly working through a gradually increasing reading list continued on for some months until May of 2019 when things kicked up a gear. On somewhat of a whim, somewhat out of curiosity, somewhat to appease the minimalist in me who yearned to get rid of the stacks of books that were accumulating in drawers and on shelves; I bought an e-reader. I wasn't easily located near any physical book stores and the allure of getting books at a reduced price was tempting so I decided to take the plunge. I took it home, got it setup and began looking through the offerings for something to read.

In the week that followed I proceeded to finish a novel almost every single day.

Very quickly the act of reading became the joy of reading. I could now work through a book anywhere when previously trying to fit even a modest novel in amongst a backpack crammed with textbooks, a water bottle, notebooks, pens, a laptop etc. was cumbersome. Now my entire library fitted on something that's thinner than most pencils.

By reducing almost every friction there was from the act of reading whether that be difficulties in actually getting a physical copy, the text being hard to read due to poor printing, or not being able to read easily in poor light. I was left with just me and the (electronically) printed page.

Given that I could now configure every book to have exactly the font size, margin width and line spacing I was most comfortable with; every book now effectively became a one-off limited edition configured exactly to my needs.

In the latter half of 2019 I read 20 books, averaging about 1 a week. I was back to my old way with reading.

Getting back into reading also helped in other areas as well; Previously I'd found myself fallen into the trap of skimming video-clips of news headlines and mindlessly zoning out watching YouTube videos and such.

With my habits solidifying however, I found myself putting together a carefully curated list of RSS feeds from blogs and sources I actually care about, preferring to read a post that thoroughly explores a topic rather than watching what is effectively a highlight-reel.

The kind of books I read changed as well, since every book is now only as thick as the e-reader itself, I find myself drawn to trying to work through longer and heftier books like the 900-page Don Quixote or Stephen King's classic 1000-page IT. Rather than being put off by looking at my desk to see an apparent imposing tower of pages, I see it as an opportunity to explore a side of literature I'd previously been intimidated by. Who knows, one day I may even attempt to tackle the behemoth that is David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest if I feel confident enough.

I still consider educating myself a physical thing, textbook in hand with an army of highlighters and sticky-notes. However, my retention and ability to actually process what's on the page in front of me has drastically improved since I took up reading for pleasure again.

Of course if you, like I was, have fallen out of love for reading or just never considered yourself much of a reader to begin with I strongly urge you to give it a try. I don't mean to mislead and make you think that now the only place you'll find me is hidden away in some dimly lit study with a stack of the Classics. Reading doesn't have to be something that needs crowbarred into your day, you can easy slot it in with other tasks without the slightest friction:

Need something to do in the morning's before leaving for work? Why not get get started on a new read?

That 20 minute commute on the bus? That's more than enough time for a chapter.

Waiting for some document or file to download? Why not refresh your memory of an earlier section?

Food in the oven and the timer's set? That's another chapter.

That half-an-hour wind-down before bed? Spend it reading something meaningful.

Sitting down and just reading can be a transformative experience, especially as endlessly scrolling through a social feed becomes the only way an increasing number of people get their news, entertainment and politics. Books offer a way to actually go in-depth with a topic and see it from a viewpoint that you just can't get from a tweet.

Some highlights

Getting into reading can be hard when you don't know where to start so here are a few of my standouts from the last year and a half to get you started.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke) : An incredible philosophical slow-burn that was ahead of its time.

1984 (George Orwell) : No other book has built a world so real yet so vague.

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson) : Lengthy but offers a compelling look at a complex figure.

I Am Legend (Richard Matheson) : A quick and easy read with a strong emotional punch.

Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes) : Quite possibly one of the most real and human protagonists ever put to paper.