After never being away from a book for more than a few days at a time my entire life, the last year has been devoid of finished books. What went wrong?
If that sounds like the setup for a piece that is going to explore some interesting ideas about reading, let me spoil it for you: It’s not.
I genuinely ran into a wall.
Not for lack of trying. I read on a daily basis, often for work (research, etc.), and regularly for pleasure. I subscribe to a number of magazines — yes, print magazines are still a thing! — and have my face buried in text for at least a portion of every day.
Actually finishing a book, however, has become near impossible, and that’s highly unusual.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an avid reader. I’ve always had my face buried in books. Reading was both my escape and how I self-educated on topics I was interested in. When reading books for class in elementary school, I’d often race ahead and finish the book the first night or two, dooming myself to spend the next several weeks in class twiddling my thumbs waiting for the lesson plan to catch up. In high school, I often skipped the lunchroom and went to the library instead.
Yeah, I was that guy.
As an adult, I connected with close friends over shared reading experiences. Shared books with like-minded people and in doing so, changed one anothers lives. Had long, drunken conversations about books in that weird place where beer and books meet. Spent far too much money buying books I could not possible find the room to store (there are 17 bookcases in my house, all filled, and boxes of other books with nowhere to go). Even became mildly consumed with wanting to writing my own books (which by some miracle actually happened).
Since the early 2000s, I’ve even kept a log of each book and graphic novel I read, just for shits and giggles. This gave me a good month-by-month account of how much I read.
I like lists.
Listing things is fun.
I’m not a reading superman by any means. Many, many people read many, many more books than I do. A book or two a week? Not in the cards for me. But in the last 12 years or so I’ve averaged about 30ish books a year, sometimes climbing into the 40s, a few times dipping into the high 20s. A respectable number.
And yes they were good books. I wasn’t tearing through empty beach paperbacks or whatever. Most were (to me) quality works by quality writers, or at the very least on worthwhile subjects.
But I haven’t finished a book since 2014.
I have no idea what to make of that, but yeah. Not since 2014. Haven’t finished a single book.
(For the record, the last book I finished was Cosmos by Carl Sagan.)
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. I’ve started at least six since November 2014 or so and have meandered to a gentle stop on all. Great books, too. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. James Ellroy’s modern noir The Black Dahlia. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by the brilliant creator of The Wire, David Simon, who I have written about before. Cherie Priest’s delightful steampunk and zombie mashup, Boneshaker (which features mom as the main character – awesome). Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. The Martian (which I was well on my way to finishing, then I saw the movie and figured, eh, guess I’m done.) And the indie music memoir Our Band Could Be Your Life.
Abandoned all of them at various points, and only The Martian at more than halfway through.
Ain’t their fault. I liked what I read in every single one. That I faded on Boneshaker broke my heart, because Priest was killin‘ it.
But nothing finished.
Dunno why. Can’t focus. New habits since I started working from home. Focused on writing rather than reading. No more lunch breaks from the office during which to read (usually a regular reading time for me). Using mobile devices (like a Kindle Fire) before bed instead of reading like I normally do. A leech stuck behind my ear feeding on that weird grey stuff that builds up back there. Etc etc etc.
I don’t know.
I’m climbing out of that well with the help of some short story collections. Four in particular, by H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K.Dick, Jack McDevitt and Arthur C. Clarke, are giving me that familiar taste of falling asleep to words again, and that is welcome. I feel like I need it. I not only need a reminder of why I started writing in the first place, but also some way to escape from the little box I now live in as a result of switching to the life of a freelancer.
And more than TV or movies or video games or running around the woods in only a pair of boxer shorts and a smear of peanut butter across my chest, books are where I have always escaped.
2015 might be the first year of my life since the 1970s that I haven’t finished a book.
Let’s hope 2016 rectifies that problem.