Confessions of a Distracted Booklover

Originally posted December 19, 2008

I’m not a big reader.

That statement seems a bit hypocritical coming from a girl who worked for three years at an independent bookshop and who writes as a hobby, but it’s true. Historically, among my resolutions every New Year is a vow to read more books. I love books. I adore them. I own a library’s worth. But once I pick one up – no matter how much I am truly enjoying it – another inevitably distracts me. Something even more enjoyable, enlightening, and interesting will catch my eye.

As such, I have the house of a very well read person. My shelves, tables, floors: all littered with amazing, yet half-read pieces of literature. They’re stacked on the side of my tub, under my bed, and in any corner that will hold them. For all the wonderful books that surround me every day, I have no follow-through. What I do have is the attention span of a fruit fly.

This has always seemed sort of shameful to me. Like it’s all a big sham. I’ve always wanted to be that person who picked up, say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and just couldn’t put it down. I did put it down. I put it down when I saw that copy of On the Road that was calling my name. Then I put that one down for something else. It’s a vicious cycle.

I can’t blame this phenomenon on the company I keep. The boy is an avid reader – a fan of the Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower novels, he has no problem taking in entire series spanning 20 or more books. My friend Mandy, currently on an indefinite trek around the globe, recently read 35 books in six months.Thirty-five books. I would have no problem beginning 35 books in that span of time, but finishing them? Not likely.

I’ve tried to blame my lack of commitment on my upbringing, to no avail. I often describe the high school I attended as being two clicks more conservative than that town in Footloose, so as you can imagine, if I wanted to read such ‘controversial’ classics as Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye, it would have to be done on my own time. But that didn’t discourage reading. If anything, it enticed me to explore such ‘taboo’ literature.

I suppose saying I’m not a reader is a misnomer. I do read. A lot. Newspapers, magazines, blogs – I can’t get enough. I just have a hard time focusing on an entire book from start to finish. Because of this, I’ve tried to train myself to seek out books I can ingest in small bites. Books on sociology, some memoirs, essays, short stories. These are the types of things I can read a little of, put down, then pick back up without losing all continuity.

When I was working at the aforementioned bookstore, I usually had three to five books going at a time. One spring break I boarded a Greyhound bus to visit my sister lugging two bags with me – one with clothing and other essentials, and another weighed down with a small collection of books. A novel, if I wanted something entertaining; a book of short stories, if I wanted a change; a book on world religions, to feed my soul; a biography on Elizabeth I, in case I felt like something historic; and a business book, as I was trying to harness my mind into focusing on the subjects I was studying in school. All of this in addition to several magazines and a notepad to jot down my own scattered, rambling thoughts throughout the process.

I’ve always been this way. It’s not shallow, I’ve decided. I just have varied interests. Lots and lots of them. Reading is an avenue through which to explore different areas of life. When I was little, I never really had one answer to that “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. I could never decide. By reading stories of others — truth or fiction — I can live vicariously through these people, and be all the different things I’ve wanted to be over the years but did not become. Or maybe some things I never even considered. I can be a physician; I can be a poet. I can be an expatriate; I can be a journalist. I can be braver than I ever imagined. And I can switch from one to the other, sometimes without following all the way through one story before another begins. Where else can a person be so indecisive, so amazingly and deliciously unfettered?

Such is the wonder of the written word.

Our everyday lives are so filled with labels and titles. Much emphasis is placed on being responsible or practical. In order to retain sanity, a girl needs a bit of escapism. This is mine.

This year, my resolution won’t be so stringent. Maybe I’ll vow to explore even more new places, new faces, and new experiences. Some I’ll stick with, some I won’t. I’m not beating myself up over it one way or another. In the mean time, I’ll be searching for a good place to sell those books I have finished. I could make a killing.


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