Reading is Fundamental

03/26/2017 at 4:48 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

From a very young age, I’ve always been someone who loved to read books, and that desire and practice continues to this day. Even with all the necessary distractions of childhood – school, chores, playing with friends, watching that rerun of The Brady Bunch or Hogan’s Heroes for the umpteenth time while I may or may not having been doing my homework in front of that boob tube – I always found time and physical space to read Beverly Cleary or the latest Guinness Book of World Records, or, as I got a little older, a Stephen King or S.E. Hinton novel. As I matured and gained a bit more education and well-earned wisdom, my pleasure reading expanded into pockets of deeper and more complex reading. For a time, in my early 20s, I consumed books; I read bestsellers, non-fiction, and classic texts in equal measure. The library and local bookstores were my second homes, as were the parks and cheap restaurants that I frequented with a book (or two) in hand.

I realize now that my 20s and 30s were my peak reading years, when I worked full-time but still had the freedom and energy (and single-minded focus) to devote myself to a 200-page, 400-page, or even 900-page book without worry that I would ever actually finish it once I began the journey with “Page 1.” Even when I had girlfriends, demanding jobs, writing projects that I gave myself strict deadlines for, and an obsessive compulsion to watch every single movie (including the foreign ones) ever made, I still found time and an urgent need to read books.

Then, in my 40s, it all changed. I had a lovely wife, three rambunctious, demanding, beautiful little boys, a house, a full-time job, and the aching desire to finish and have published all of the fiction I had been toiling over those many, many years. I still had pockets of free time, but now the landscape of how to spend that free time (even snippets of it) had changed: cell phones gave access to the Internet, where Facebook, news feeds, YouTube, and all the rest were accessible by just reaching into your pocket and tapping a few keys on the touch-screen; Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and all those multiple movie channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) offered hours upon hours of viewing and bingeing possibilities; Kindle ushered in the digital-reading experience, and the options for what to read and how to read them became as overwhelming as everything else that fell under the banner of “entertainment content.”

Now here I am, inundated with so many choices, with less “free” time than I’ve ever had in my entire life (a life that I am blessed with and, please don’t get me wrong, most grateful for), and my reading habit has become more of a reading afterthought. I still read, but it has, quite frankly, become more of a task and less of a pleasure than it ever has before. I find it more difficult to stay engaged with longer books (and there are so many longer books being released every year), and when faced with reading for an hour before bed or watching a new episode of This Is Us or old episodes of 30 Rock, I’ll admit that the HDTV up there on the mantle invariably wins that fight against the paperback on the bedside table more times than not. It’s something I take no pride in, but after a day filled with early-mornings spent getting the kids ready for school and the rest of the day devoted to work, work, and more work, followed by helping with homework, baths, dinner and bedtime – well, frankly, I’m exhausted. And it’s much easier to turn my brain off with something visually arresting than to inhabit a world of words where my imagination and cognitive functions are forced to be activated.

So now that I am an actual author, a writer with my first novel being published this August, the reality of my situation and relationship with books and reading is suddenly more fraught than ever. I recognize the commitment that reading asks of and actually needs from its audience of one to finish a completed work of fiction or non-fiction that a writer on the other side of has spent countless hours thinking about, crafting, rewriting, editing, sending out to agents and publishers, and then promoting in the hopes of reaching interested, curious readers. I know the time I spend reading a book is infinitesimal when compared to how long it took for its construction, and the level of my attention to it can never match the desired expectations the author has for my commitment and reaction to it. As writers, we want our readers to feel the same love and admiration for our work as we gave so many, many of our conscious and unconscious hours to during its creation.

But that’s an unrealistic expectation, and an unfair burden to place on even our most “ideal” readers, much less on a person faced with a constant barrage or responsibilities and choices which wrench them from here to there and this way and that. So now that I am in the process of doing marketing prior to the release of my debut novel, these realities are inescapable, and demand from me the proper understanding and acceptance.

Now, every time that I send out an email to a stranger requesting they read and possibly review this novel by a complete unknown, I am hyper-aware that mine is just one of a multitude of requests they likely receive on a daily basis. Every time I ask a friend, fellow writer, or cohort to read my novel and to please write a blurb or online review for it (always with the sincere caveat that if they decide to accept the novel and read it, if they don’t like it or are not comfortable associating their name and reputation with it, I will not take it personally), I realize exactly what that request means for them. I am almost painfully aware of how much of their time my book demands – the time they will need to take from any number of life tasks, or from entertainment options that they are guaranteed to enjoy and unwind with – for them to read all 400 pages, and then to make the decision whether or not it merits any further energy to spend even more time writing about it. So when there is rejection of that request, or simply no response at all, I understand, empathize and try not to ever take it personally. Free choice, to say yes or no to any request or to simply ignore it outright, is one of the few things in life that still remains free. Sacrificing that “free time” to do one thing over another means constantly assessing not only time but freedom itself.

In assessing my own free time and the choices that vie for the golden ticket wristband in the seemingly endless, option-filled queue, I honestly try not to lose sight of all the supreme joy that falling into a great book affords; past experience has taught me that the promise of “my next favorite book” may lie right around the next spine. Even if a book fails to meet my preconceived expectations (based on reviews I’ve read or recommendations I’ve been given), no book read is time wasted or lost – there is always something I find to appreciate, admire, have fun with or learn from every single one of them. Again, it always comes down to time: if only I had more, that voice inside my head loudly proclaims, think of all the amazing books we would read, and how many worlds we would inhabit with every turn of the page.

Oh, if only …

Broken time

photo from The Boston Calendar

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