This is the thing, though. Its not the churn of the twenty-four-hour news cycle that has dismembered that style of reading you were once so good at: the solid uninterrupted chunk, the afternoon in the park, the sleepless night (those sleepless nights, they were secretly the best). And no, Im not going to be pedantic about WhatsApp and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Tinder and, dare I say it, cat videos.
And I wont say your attention span has shortened or that your self-interest has lengthened or that the only way to deliver a story to you (I wont say content, I hate that word) is through a listicle punctuated with memes and gifs (although, lets face it, we all know you devotedly read every single listicle about Harry Potter).
No, its not the internet, its not the brevity of the microtext, and anyway, your attention span is fine, I know you also read The Order of the Phoenixin one sitting, and god knows it wasnt all that pacey. No, the thing that has broken the unbrokenness of your former reading style is the volume, the expanse, its the needle in the goddamn haystack.
It all begins innocuously enough. Theres a long-form piece someone linked to (youve always liked the pieces this person links to): its one of those thoughtful essays, about the the waterways of some European nation, the soda taxes in a Latin American country, that sort of thing, the kind of writing that contextualises a familiar pain even as it is set in an unfamiliar landscape.
Its framed in just the sort of language and rhetoric that engages you. Its a seventy-minute read, the webpage helpfully informs you. That feels doable.
Only, it cites other pieces by linking to them. And you dont feel like youre being completely thorough unless you open each of these links in separate tabs, just to make sure you have all the background you really need in order to understand all the points this piece is making. And besides, this ones only seventy minutes, and youre used to reading for hours together.
Then, halfway through, the piece mentions the name of a book. It sounds clever and fun, and you feel like youve heard the name before. You should probably read the book. But maybe you should read a review first, you know, just to be certain. Sure enough, theres a glowing review in a magazine you trust (and there arent that many that you trust these days, trust being such a strong word and all). But heres the bigger question: is this a reviewer you should trust?
Maybe you should read a few reviews that the reviewer has written in the past, of books that youve read, just to see if your tastes clash. Oh, good. They dont. Isnt it wonderful that this reviewer too found that memoir self-indulgent even if poetically written, or that this reviewer too did not like the sequel to that other book that you both loved? Maybe you should reread that other book just to see if its as good as you remember it being.
But wait. Theres this book you know, the one referenced in that article you paused at the thirty-five-minute mark, yeah, that one. Should you buy it? Maybe you should read two more reviews of the book, just to get a sense of what other reviewers think. Okay, mostly good things. Enough now. Its time to take the plunge. And look, you can order it directly to your electronic reader.
So you do, guiltily glancing at the half-read long-form piece, the fourteen open tabs and that other book you started reading late last night when you couldnt fall asleep. But this book! What a glorious opening paragraph. You settle right in. You read.
But what about
And I know you, youd never leave anything undone. At some point, youll return to that article (your browser will have kept the page scrolled down to that exact point where you stopped), and youll quickly skim through those open tabs and youll read at least three of them, and youll buy a few more books that reviewer liked, and maybe a few that she didnt like, just to see, and youll read them too, because theres nothing more judgmental than that fold on the book icon in your e-reader that says a book has never been opened.
And sure, your backlog will pile up, and there will be a stack of books by your bedside and under your table and in the corner of your sock drawer, and sure, someone will have linked to another great long-form piece by then that you will dutifully save to your read-it-later application, and youll get to that one too, I know you will.
Because heres the clincher, heres why you dont read as much as you used to: its because, in fact, you read a lot more than you ever used to. When you think about it, thats a whole other kind of wonderful.
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