Forgetting how to read, really?

A lament:

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, “I think I’ve forgotten how to read.”

“Yes!” he replied, pointing his knife. “Everybody has.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean I actually can’t do it any more.”

He nodded: “Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”

For good reason. It’s embarrassing. Especially for someone like me. I’m supposed to be an author – words are kind of my job. Without reading, I’m not sure who I am. So, it’s been unnerving to realize: I have forgotten how to read – really read – and I’ve been refusing to talk about it out of pride.

This is interesting for two reasons: the purported phenomenon being discussed, and the author’s assumption — extremely common in such essays — that a personal problem is universal, or nearly so. Nobody can read like they used to.

This is not, I think, the case. In fact, it can’t be, or platforms like Wattpad would disappear, destroyed by the variety of minute-long posts on Facebook and the endless array of YouTube videos and who knows what.

I wonder if the author of this post — Michael Harris — is familiar with the readers of, oh … Romances. Fantasy. Thrillers. All kinds of YA. I would personally bet that the immersive, page-turning compulsive reading experiences offered by genre fiction prevent the kind of disinterest in reading described in the article, and that readers who enjoy genre fiction are not included in the “Nobody can read like they used to” category.

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4 thoughts on “Forgetting how to read, really?”

  1. My first thought when I read that bit when The Passive Guy linked it, was the person probably needed more sleep or a different book. Or both.
    Certainly not that it was a major permanent shift in brain capabilities. There’ve been a small flood of articles claiming this, and i just don’t see it.

  2. Definitely a case of wrong book/wrong time.

    When people watch movies, they try and pick something they’re in the mood for and interested in – books are the same, but more so, since reading is more active than viewing. You’d think the author would know that.

  3. I have read books exactly like that—as required reading for school assignments. Endless pages of slogging through depressing people doing nothing interesting or uplifting. Anything I read for fun, especially these days, gets thrown into the sell/return pile if it can’t actually grab and maintain my interest. Funny thing is, I still read tons and tons of books in a given year, and find new favorites all the time.

  4. Megan, absolutely. I never read books I don’t like anymore — though every now and then I’ll flip ahead and see how things work out before putting the book on the Give Away pile.

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