Forgetting how to read


I read incessantly. As a child I had to have the cereal box in front of me on the breakfast table, just to have some reading material nearby.



Now, however, through some combination of age and medication and alcohol consumption, my concentration has faltered, and I can’t read the way I used to.



Take the newspaper, for example. My eyes skitter up and down the page, glancing at the headlines, looking for proper nouns and keywords. But even when I find an article I want to read in detail, I sort of panic and keep skittering.



I still read a lot, of course. For some reason, non-fiction – the duller the better – has become very appealing to me. I am not kidding you when I say I recently read – page by page and word by word! – a grammar/lexicon of the Chinook Trading Jargon. I always keep a book near my living-room chair, for quiet moments; right now it’s an eighteen-pound college biology textbook, which I open at random to read about mitosis and eukaryotes and dicotyledons. It’s very calming.



But novels are almost beyond me nowadays.



I find I just don’t care about them anymore. Every story has been told, don’t you think? Every family situation has been dissected, every antihero has met his destiny, every Don Quixote has come home at last. I used to go to the bookstore and look at the endless racks of paperback and hardback novels, and I felt daunted, because I thought I had to read them all. I don’t feel that way nowadays.



I even cheat. Apollonia, my work friend, gave me her cherished copy of “Water for Elephants,” so that I could talk intelligently with her about it. I found it flat and uninteresting, and got my dear friend to tell me all about it, and now I can fake my way through a conversation with her about it.



This saddens me a bit. (Also, I hope Apollonia doesn’t read this.)



So, as a penance and a lesson to myself in diligence – and maybe to get my reading proficiency back – I have set myself an assignment: I am currently reading “Democracy: An American Novel” by Henry Adams. I am reading it on my Nook, a few pages at a time. No, a few sentences at a time. I do not allow myself to skitter. And, for a change, I am actually trying to think about what I’m reading.



I am enjoying it.



So maybe I am not beyond hope after all.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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