I think I love to read. I exhibit many telltale signs of an avid reader. I sit attentively when I read. I devour novels, research what’s worth reading, scribble notes in the margin, underline my favorite phrases: the whole nine. I reread my favorites. I hate it when the TV’s on when I’m reading; I resent the tinny sound. I fantasize about someday living in a TV-less home: a glorious refuge of the inquiring spirit where information is only consumed actively and critical minds probe books while bathed in the pulse of woodstove warmth set free from the blinding tyranny of passivity. Oh — and I want exposed brick to complement the wood stove’s contemplative ambiance. Yes, just like that. Perfect.
But, I sit up when I read: in a hard-backed chair at a table or desk. I know that if I recline on a couch my mind’s eye will stray towards a magnetic dreamscape, and I will doze off within minutes — book facedown on my chest, neglected. I race through novels, eager to complete them and place them on my bookshelf beside my little league trophies. I check book reviews in order to avoid books that would offend my delicate and decidedly intellectual palate. I scribble notes to make sure I understand what I am reading in order to avoid being caught with my pants down in the case that one of my peers says, “Oh, I’ve read that one too.” I underline the most obscurely quotable lines, so that I will be able to interject a pithy and impressive quote which will make it clear that they should read more, read more critically, read work by meaningful authors and coincidentally: be more like me. I re-read so I never get the concepts or quotes wrong. I’m bothered by the TV because my affinity for it disturbs the self-approving, Cornell-cultivated, heavily ideological part of me. I can’t read when the tube is turned on within an audible range – the ringing of the thought vortex grabs a hold of my focus, and try as I (the self-approving “I”) might, I (the acting, feeling “I”) nevertheless experience passivity’s nagging draw. I dream of someday living in a well-thought-out and carefully constructed informational seclusion, built brick-by-exposed-brick by my self-approving and ideological self, so that I will become the book-lover I know myself to be, and will be kept safe from passivity’s looming temptation. No, not like that. Don’t forget the brick. There, that’s it. Perfect.
I think I love to read.
I love that humbling realization: that moment when I concede that ‘I could never have said that so perfectly.’ I love when an author gives an apt depiction of the human condition and in doing so reveals me to myself. I love extending the criticality of my course-required reading to my recreational reading in and therein affirming one promise of a liberal-arts education: a cultivation of higher-order regard for books and ideas and such. I appreciate.
But, I read to recycle. The lines that I could never have written? The adjectives that I could never have thought of? I store them, disguise them and, ultimately, recycle them. It sounds sick, I know: it sounds that way to me too. But I cope. I rationalize. Numb my conscience. Convince myself that everybody does it — that it’s the effing system man. Tell myself that I am so dreadfully steeped (Descartes’ Meditations) in a social dynamic governed by market dynamics (David Bollier’s Silent Theft), that the very rhythm which paces and governs my functional movement through life (David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men) is one of a helpless “second-hander” (Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead). I peculate.
Have I become Rand’s second hander, a tragic individual who’s become incapable of direct, experience-to-mindset enjoyment of life, and is hopelessly dependent on mediators (i.e. approving Sun readers, that intellectual girl down the hallway) in order to experience personal happiness/satisfaction? Has this world, with its Facebook photo documentation and its “status”(double entendre?) updates, and “just to say we dids” rendered me incapable of straight up enjoying a book?
It may be that this is not as problematic as I think: It may be I’m merely experiencing a natural craving of the “social animal,” one that necessitates use of the information I’m absorbing in books; in this case, as a sort of social fertilizer. It may be that reading books for the sake of building my head-cred is healthy. It may be a result of the big school effect and the insecurity in imposes. It may be normal. However, something that is normal is not necessarily good, and I cannot ignore what seems sickly deliberate and self-serving about a contrived enjoyment of reading.
What’s most striking is that this feeling of “forcing it,” is distinctly unfamiliar, and I would suggest: unwanted. So, I wonder, why the change?
In summertime, as I put down the textbook, the highlighter, and eagerly return to ‘reading-for-reading’s sake’, I’m both encouraged and tormented by a reading approach that I’ve spent the past year sharpening and convincing myself that I “enjoy.” It is a voracious criticality: prescient and enthusiastic. It is self-advocated. It is powerful and kinetic and invigorating and thorough. But, sadly, my enjoyment of reading has lost its immediacy. It has become deliberate and less about genuine enjoyment. I seem to enjoy it; I exhibit all of the aforementioned signs of an avid reader. However, I often experience a lingering suspicion that the contrived enthrallment I experience has become, I fear, masquerading.
I hope I love to read.