Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Some Writing About Reading

I don't read as well anymore.

Not in a "I can't see the pages anymore" kind of way, nor am I just gradually becoming illiterate. And I wish I had some great profound point (you know, something I think sounds profound, even if no one else does), or a humorous touchstone to this post (you know, something I find humorous, even if no one else does). But I just felt like writing, and my latest foray as a TV binge consumer, 30 Rock, only requires half my brain's attention span (though it is a much more brilliantly written show than I had originally given it credit for).

I just finished a book today. It's the first one I've read in a while...at least, the first one that wasn't going to be on a big exam involving medical treatment and diagnosis. And it was the first one I actually read in a while...as in, I didn't listen to it being read to me via headphones or my car speakers. Though I should point out that audiobooks have been a godsend in my life these days. My most recent long car trip, a 4-hour drive to Pittsburgh to see old friends, was made much quicker by C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" read to me by writer, actor, and tall person John Cleese. Highly recommended, both the book and the audio recording.

Anyway, after I took Step 2 of my board exams, I immediately went to Netflix and started through my queue of movies. After Thanksgiving, I began the final season of The West Wing, which I had been putting off for close to a year while I kept up with the non-stop pace of the third year (and the beginning of the fourth) of medical school. Upon finishing that, I went the next day to the library and checked out two books. I could have waited and done one at a time - it's not like there are that many people in Amherst, NY waiting for the memoir of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Sheila E's autobiography. But I figured, I used to borrow multiple books at a time, and I would finish them long before they were due back.

I can remember buying the Harry Potter books the day they came out (after pre-ordering it - by phoning the bookstore - and waiting in line at Waldenbooks, obviously). I read all of them within 24-48 hours of their release (except the 7th one, where I had to wait close to a week because my sister Jocelin somehow hijacked it before I could start reading it...I have no idea how that happened, but I remember it seeming to matter way more than it actually did).

So I was counting on that kind of reading speed now that I could fully devote my time to leisure reading, and losing myself in the pages of these books. Maybe it was because I was reading a more scattered memoir, with a tone more wry than out-and-out funny...but it was a struggle.

It's ridiculous. Multiple times within chapters (sometimes every few pages) I would find myself checking my phone and its connection to the rest of the world - to see if I had gotten a text, to check Facebook, to look up something in the book that would eventually lead to some other random Internet search, things I tried not to let myself do while studying. And I can't seem to stop going to the kitchen for a drink or a snack, either. But I still liked the book, and wanted to keep reading it.

These kinds of things happen to me during movies and TV shows, too, but not to the same extent. The visual stimulus holds my attention a lot better (as long as it's good), I guess. Mr. Fagen, the self-described puny malcontent musician whose memoir I finished today, probably would have been disgusted with me for the amount of times I put down his book for silly reasons.
The only reason Mr. Cleese had a captive audience is because I couldn't leave the car to get a snack (and I recently dropped the texting-while-driving habit...that one's still tough to maintain).

I'm not making some sweeping declaration about technology and social networking in my life...that's a slow undertaking. Nor am I trying to philosophize or wax poetic about it. It's just a mental resolution: just like I had to do with my study reading, I'm trying to get better at shutting down distractions faster. I have some rare free time for now, though I'll have to go back to medical studying soon enough. I have a long list of books I want to read in this time, and I look forward to losing myself in them. I just have to let myself get lost.