Losing My Patience

I love reading. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. I love story so much I earned two degrees in literature. I can’t express it enough: I really love reading.

Or, at least, I did.

Something has changed in me as a reader and it’s breaking my heart.

I’m losing my patience with reading.

Right now at the top of my reading list is my book club’s next pick: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. It isn’t a particularly long read, but every time I open it, my brain feels overwhelmed by the density of the words on the page. How full and blockish the paragraphs are. How little white space there is.

It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous. I’m a writer. The first rule of being a writer is being a reader, for Pete’s sake. Ugh. I’m frustrated with myself. I feel defeated.

Here’s the thing: I think reading on the internet has changed how I read. Period. And that is in a word, horrifying.

For someone who spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book, I’m sad to say I have become an impatient reader. And I hate it.

This week we’re talking about exposition. Anymore, I lose patience if a book has too much exposition. I just want the author to get on with the story already I don’t have all day I have things to do so stop telling me about the author’s childhood I don’t care.

But I should care. Exposition, when done well, lends to character development. Character development leads to reader understanding and empathy. Understanding and empathy make for a satisfying read.

I found this Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows, which is now on my To Read list, assuming I don’t lose my ability to read altogether) interesting. In it he says:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Yep. That’s it exactly.

He goes on to say: “…what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Surface. Yuck. Surface is so…shallow. I don’t want shallow. I want my rich, full, fun and rewarding reading life back.

So, I’m staging an intervention. I’m hereby limiting how much I read on the internet. I’m going on an internet-article fast, and I’m getting my nose back into books. (So many of those internet articles are like candy anyway, and not anything that really applies to my life right here right now.) I’ll be honest: this is going to be difficult. But it must be done. Just as exercise helps the body, I am convinced sitting quietly, reading and finishing the books I start is going to help reshape my brain. Teach me again how to love reading.

Thankfully, I have a wise teacher in my midst to guide me. My daughter, a young and voracious reader, can remind me how it’s done. And maybe in so doing, I can help her avoid ending up where I am now.

UPDATE: I made a cup of tea and read the first chapter of State of Wonder. Feels great. Can’t wait to read more. Every morning should start like that.