Book Shaming

I’ve got a confession to make, a dark simmering confession that has been slowly bubbling since I found out about Porn, YouTube and Buzzfeed (in ascending order of how much it has contributed to my affliction). I’ve tried to hide it from my family and friends, desperately hitting up Google and Wikipedia in an effort to tuck away any lingering strands of suspicion they might latch onto.

I won’t lie, there were times when I thought my charade was up, when some dingus (yeah I use the word dingus), catches me stark naked in a poorly thought out lie. I stutter and sweat the next few syllables out, the slimy untruth oozing out like Slimer (was that an uninspired name or what?), barrelling into the crowd of people gathered around me.

They must know right? They must have noticed how shaky I sounded as I described how my enjoyment of the rib tickling adventures of Parrot and Olivier. Did Olivier make it in the end? I had forgotten the ending, partly due to there being no Wikipedia entry, which, if I had read the entirety of the novel, I would have surely considered it a crying shame.

That’s right! I don’t read books, or more specifically, I haven’t completed a new book in over a year. The last book I read was “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo (a thoroughly incredible name), and that was mainly due to a 1 week reservist stint where the Wi-Fi connection was particularly weak.

It’s not like I despise reading, au contraire, j’adore (the Little Prince is one of my favorite books) reading, but the more novels I fail to complete, the fewer pages I flip through before my attention flickers to Instagram, Twitter, Flickr or my interest Tao Paos (Chinese for run away or escape) to YouTube, Reddit, Taobao, the less certain I am of my long term relationship with books.

It’s not like the books are to blame, the quality of writing hasn’t deteriorated from the 90’s and the 2000’s when I was still an avid reader. In fact, Eleanor Catton’s masterpiece The Luminaries, serves as one of modern fictions greater achievements, a dazzling feat of a novel… at least according to Lucy Scholes of The Observer. And now I trumpet that slogan like an overenthusiastic marching band member to anyone who asks me about The Luminaries, so about 2 people.

And I know it isn’t the general decline of people because of the constant tweets flooding my timeline extolling the virtues of the book, describing the smell of a new book and the touch of the books spine with almost serial killer-esque aplomb.

I could doubt their sincerity, allowing my cynicism to cut down the barely contained 140 characters enthusiasm, and for a while I did. The world flooded with pseudo readers, sharpening their pretentiousness on a whetstone of Booker Prize winners. They were all exaggerating their accomplishments, inflating word counts and becoming constant browsers of SparkNotes.

I refrained from doubting humanity, because what good would that do? The extra crosses on their reading bucket list did nothing to hide my rapidly increasing “to read list”. That bout of incredible maturity was soon replaced by panic and horror at the depths of which I’ve sunk.

If Positive Pig (@Positivepork) was so head over heels in love with new books, and the smell of them, what right did I have to pick up a novel and feel dread? I began to feel worse as my profile status towards books inconspicuously changed to “It’s complicated”, there were times, dark times, where I felt as if reading on was tantamount to chores.

The act of unfolding a carefully crafted plot, of straightening the jagged lines to reveal the full masterpiece as it was intended is wordlessly beautiful. As I kept getting lost in periodic chants of “I’m an ape-ape man” that act of beauty felt no less taxing then washing the dishes.

It is intensely disrespectful to an author such as Will Self but I promptly ceased plodding through that intricate maze of a novel after 5 or so minutes. If Buzzfeed did not have a new listicle detailing the “Top 20 reasons why Umbrella is so tubular”, I was getting no further into any other book that day.

The shame consumed me, taunting my regression, mocking my hypocrisy as I casually doled out book recommendations.

“Yeah he should totally read that book, you should join him once he reaches page 7”

Always with a snarky comeback at hand as I further distanced myself from the growing pile of books.

That’s right, I kept buying books. I bought them with money I could ill afford and attention I could no longer spare. Like a bizzaro junkie, I had developed a habit that I could definitely shake and also did not particularly want.

I thumbed through my new collection like it was a trial game I had picked up on Steam, stopping at the first few chapters as if stopped by an invisible barrier. I would then usually proceed to my laptop and start up my Steam account.

It didn’t take long before I had leafed through my luxury purchases and chanced upon Fantastic Mr Fox, a book that had sat on my bookshelf for more than a decade. I brushed off the slight coat of dust hiding the sheen of an ecstatic Mr Fox on the cover and began to read.

And I kept reading, until Boggis and Bunce and Bean had their comeuppance, sitting there stupidly around a foxhole. It’s hard to explain what I felt as the realization that I had finished a book hit me; there was a strange mixture of accomplishment and sadness. The glory of finishing a book was slightly offset by the knowledge that I had conducted this task with far less fanfare when I was 6.

For the past few months, that has been my reading syllabus, books from my youth serving as crutches to get my habit going again. I’ve finished the entire Harry Potter series as well as the Animorphs collection (Tobias is so cool!). It is not a permanent solution, the past can sustain the present for only so long, there will come a time when I have to pick up a work with no relation to my childhood.

It will be scary and my focus will wane, there will be plenty of unnecessary browsing as I struggle towards the climax of the story. My love of books will have to go up against my hate of anything that doesn’t stimulate all of my senses, but I have a stack of Artemis Fowls to get through before all of that mess.