I wonder when and how I unlearned how to read. Of course I did not really unlearn it, I read a lot all day — news, articles for work, blogposts of friends, facebook posts and of course, twitter twitter twitter. But no books, nothing that takes more concentration than 5–10 minutes. When I’m not at work reading an article about some tool or technique I really need, even less — at least most of the time. Writing it down like this it feels more dramatic than it is, or maybe it is that dramatic, I’m not sure.
There’s two facts about me and reading:
- I was never a strong or fast reader. As a kid people had to use a lot effort to convince me to start a new book because I was always wary of what I didn’t know — what if I didn’t like it? I’d rather return to a book I already knew. Starting with a focussed activity always somehow demanded a lot of my strength. My biggest achievement was reading the complete 1200 pages of “Les Misérables”, which took most of my youth.
- Weirdly enough, I ended up studying literature.
For my German “Magister” (like an oldschool M.A.) I needed to pick two subjects, and I was set on a combined major of Theatre, Media and Film studies and had no clue about the second one. A friend of my mother, a didactics professor, convinced me that German literature would be a good fit. (yes, that’s how well decided I was in one of life’s important moments, I let others decide for me. Good job 19-yo Lucie).
Since I obviously wasn’t very sure of what I wanted from my education / future career path / life, I ended up not really being interested in the one thing I was sure I wanted (theatre studies), but was quite happy with diving into literature more. Being “forced” to read I suddenly could spend hour after hour with books, and I took pride in finally knowing some classics, taking them off mental literary bucket lists (I wish the whole “gamify everything you do” thing would have been already around by then, but the height of digital avantgarde was a professor using yahoo groups to organise the seminar).
Also it was the Harry Potter years, like the actual “waiting impatiently for the next book and then reading it in English in 72 sleepless hours” years. We were all strong readers back then.
After university, my reading habits lasted for a while, since I was lucky to have a pleasant 45 minute train commute to my first job — which I had for 5 years. But in those years, a lot changed, too. I started to use Twitter, I started to use Facebook. Not mobile on a phone at first, that was all a slow process. Of course I can’t really remember when the amount of books I read dropped, and I’m far from blaming it on social media like some silly millennial bashing thinkpiece. I owe a lot to social media and my use of it, especially Twitter. It brought me connections, ideas and friendships that ultimately led to me moving to Berlin (which I had thought about for a long time), learning how to code and switching careers (which I had thought about for a long time), and, well, love!
I don’t know how much the internet changed us. Our way of thinking, our ability to focus. I have no idea. Also I can only speak for myself. I know that I feel like I lost something over the last years. At the same time I achieved one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. No, strike that. It’s the biggest thing. I sat down, many (not all) afternoons for a year and taught myself the basics of web development. That doesn’t really sound like I have trouble focussing, right? In reality, it looks more like this: I would sit down. Read twitter for an hour. Get a Clubmate. Read some more. Maybe achieve 1 to 1.5 hours of real productive work. It was a daily struggle. It. was. so. hard. Thinking back at how that felt I want to start crying, not sad crying, but crying with the agony of a tired child that doesn’t want to walk.
Did I read books during that time, that weren’t connected to learning? I don’t know. I know that some books found their way into my home, so I must have read something. I read and wrote articles, for sure, and some were even about books. But it was a rare occasion. It’s also not the first time I ask myself that question.
In my defence (I don’t really think I need to defend myself, but somehow, justify myself — to myself), I always watched a lot of movies, and see that as an equally valuable, horizon-broadening pastime. Same as TV series, since we live in a time with fantastic life-enriching storytelling. But while watching a movie or series, I can always do something else on the side. I can check my phone. Check twitter. It’s not necessarily the special state of mind you usually have to get in when you read a book. That’s the one I’m missing.
This year (which is almost half over), I managed to read 1.75 books so far. I’m a bit ashamed to tell that number. The first one was Lindy Wests “Shrill”, which is a brilliant, funny, fast read — also I read it in January, when there’s not much going on apart from strong new years resolutions. The second is Roxane Gays “Difficult Women”, which I find absolutely brilliant. But maybe short stories weren’t the best idea for my attention span.
Ok, yes — I do volunteer work besides my daily wage work. I spend time with my partner, friends, do a sport, catch up on many TV series, stare at news sites in horror… But still. I don’t even have kids. There should be some time for books. Whenever I actually manage to read a new chapter, sit down for more than 10 minutes, I can really feel how something in me gets calmer, knots unravel, distractions disappear. I’m not really good at multitasking (isn’t that a myth anyway), and reading a book is something you just do — or you don’t. I can’t half-read. Sounds like something I should do more often, right? Well. Yeah. I still have to fight myself to sit down and do it. I could also look at my phone a bit more. Also the kitchen needs cleaning. And there’s stuff on my to-do list, that I don’t need to do right now, but I know it’s there.
I’m afraid I don’t have a solution, technique, trick. Yet. In fact, I was just sitting down to continue to read. I read like two paragraphs, then I started to think about reading and that I somehow feel I lost it. Then I decided to write this down. I know I miss it. My mind feels fuzzy trying to remember when and how it came to me with less effort. I might check my phone now.