Does Anyone Still Read Books?

Not too long ago I was able to boast that there was only one book that I had started reading and hadn’t finished. I took pride in being able to persevere no matter how dense, how challenging, how boring— except for Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  

Unfortunately, those days are long past.  Lately I have quit reading more books than I have finished.  Hell, I often find myself quitting a magazine article if it gets too long — though I blame that on my iPhone’s small screen and the infinite scrolling required to read long articles.

It would be nice to believe that quitting books after beginning to read them is the result of improved taste, that over the years I’ve become more “discerning.”  After all, I tell myself, someone who has read as much as I have must have developed better taste than my younger self had. Perhaps that accounts for some of the books that sounded good when I read a review but didn’t seem to live up to the review as I read them.  Still, I find it hard to reconcile that excuse that with the fact that I still waste hours watching excruciatingly bad television shows or spend hours playing Solitaire on my computer while listening to music.

Perhaps my many electronic devices are contributing to the problem. Overall, I suspect I read almost as much as  I used to, though, perhaps, not as much as I did when I was in college or  when I was in the middle of grading term papers.  Now days, though, most of that time is spent reading short news articles or blog entries, not books.  I’ve always prided myself on “being informed” but social media may have turned me into a “news junkie.”  Reading short articles on Facebook almost feels like a “FIX” — though nothing I read seems to “fix” anything; it just hooks me into wanting another hit..  

What I fear most is that not having the will, the determination, to finish every book I start with is simply one more sign of old age.  Since nothing else seems to function quite as well as it used to, why wouldn’t my brain change, too?  I certainly can’t run a 6 minute mile in combat boots anymore, why should I be able to finish a long book that I don’t feel compelling?  If that’s the case, will it become harder and harder to read an entire book?  

Will I be forced to rely on flower photos, scenics, or bird shots as an excuse to post on this site?  

Oh wait, I’ve already been doing that for nearly a year now, haven’t I?  Not too long ago Mike emailed and wondered when I was going to post something on poetry again.  I told him I was having trouble finding a poetry book that I could finish, much less write something about.  

13 thoughts on “Does Anyone Still Read Books?”

  1. I still read, all the time. Recently finished “The Isles”, a very long history of the British Isles. I’d had that book for several years, finally made myself pick it up and read it. 1200+ pages, but I was damned determined that I was going to finish it. Then I gave it away, once was enough!

    1. Wow, I’m impressed, harry. I think you’re about ten years younger than me, though. I was still pretty ambitious when I was your age, catching up with all the books I had wanted to read since graduating from college. On the other hand, I was still hiking up to 25 miles a day in the mountains, too.

  2. I still read books. I’ve just finished Sartre’s The Age of Reason. I’m currently reading Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature. I’m 61. I think as one gets older one does have a growing sense that time is getting shorter. This, combined with the growing realisation that I have spent hours of my life so far trying to finish lacklustre books because the effort would somehow do me good (it didn’t) means that I’m more likely to dump a book now if I find I’m losing interest. Also, in one’s youth it is easy to find oneself in awe of writers and to think that if a tome is unreadable, the fault lies with you, the puny reader.

    Length and difficulty never had anything to do with it for me. I got no further than page two of War and Peace but made it to the end of Finnegans Wake and Tristram Shandy. Moby Dick I fairly gobbled up. I’m not sure I’d reproduce these feats now though. The great thing about poetry books for me is that one doesn’t have to read them from cover to cover. One can and perhaps should just dib in.

    1. At 62 you’re still a youngster — at least from my perspective. The feeling of “been there, done that” seems to have gotten stronger as I have aged.

      I find it nearly impossible to find a popular movie I want to sit through. I’m amazed that with 99 channels I still can’t find anything that interests me on TV.

      Nowadays I’m more apt to sit meditating for a half-hour than I am to spend time reading, but what I love most of all is to be out birding for three or four hours at a time seeing things I’ve managed to overlook most of my life.

      1. I know what you mean about popular movies. It struck me the other day: I don’t like to be “entertained”. I find it far more rewarding to entertain myself, if “entertainment” is the right word for what I enjoy doing!

  3. It is so easy to slip out of the reading habit. The image is taking precedence over the text for many people. If I did not try to write, I admit that I would not read extensively. But I do believe that reading has a value beyond the realm of improving blogging or word production. There is something odd about the process which extends our empathy. Furthermore, the study of literature from different countries allows us to situate ourselves in history. If we do not read, we can lose touch with our real identity. This is because novels and poetry remind us of the complexity of other humans. If we keep focusing on images then we can become superficial and distracted. I really hope I’ve sold reading back to you.

    1. I’m pretty sure that the “image” has always taken precedence over words for me. Most of my memories are snapshots of events, rather than stories about events.

      I think I turned to poetry (as a college major) because it focused on imagery, not words. If I’d thought I could have made enough money, I would have majored in art in college and tried to make a living as an artist.

  4. At 80, and a “recovering academic,” I am still a reader. I recommend Barry Lopez’s big book, a summation of his career, Horizon. It will take a while, but I’ll bet you will be enthralled, all the way to the end. Currently, I’m reading David Treuer’s The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, a learned, thoughtful, provocative, passionate book. For poetry, you might try Linda Bierds’ new book, just about to be published. Litera scripta manet.

    1. Not sure another book is what I need as I have three or four stacks of books-in-waiting sitting around my house, but I added Lopez’s book to my waiting list on Amazon.

  5. I think as we get older we get a little less patient with things that don’t meet our expectation. Sometimes I start a book and discover something is missing, characters don’t seem consistent, or I don’t understand what motivates them, or the story is all action and no thought. I give those books a rough 100 pages and if nothing improves I give them up because there are so many books available now. And now that I have time, there are a lot of things I want to explore, and I don’t want to waste time on something that doesn’t please me. As for poetry, I read a lot of it, and rarely read an entire book. I sometimes go back to a book because I find I have changed and might get something different out of it. Some of my favorite poets are W. S. Merwin, Marge Piercy, Charles Wright, Mary Oliver, Galaxy Kinell . . .hmm, actually too many to list. I like poetry that shows me something very specific, and has a real emotional impact. Your writing about poetry was how I found you to start with. I stayed for the lovely photos of things we don’t get to see here. Thank you!

    1. I find your comment on poetry books interesting. I’ve always sat down and read a poetry book from cover to cover, marking poems I want to come back to and consider in more depth. I’ll admit, though, when I come back to a book of poetry I’ve previously read, I often just look at the poems I have previously marked.

      What’s frustrating in terms of this blog is that I really don’t feel comfortable discussing a book of poetry if I haven’t finished it. And that’s where a handful of partially read poetry books becomes discouraging.

  6. I am more discerning even at age 31 than I once was. I feel as though I know what interests me (mostly environmental sustainability). Looking for a book that fits your style is another important cue for me. I generally don’t like lots of numbers and don’t like finger pointing or overt doomsday prophesies.

    For environmental books, I am looking for ones that prescribe solutions and have a tinge if optimism. You can’t get that in an article blurb. I feel as though it fits my style. Nature is slow to change, so are people. I know that challenges we face are ever present and will be around a lot longer than I am here for. Plus, I find it fun to imagine a society working towards a greater good- changing and progressing toward ways of farming and energy harnessing that are tested and proven to be practical.

    Breakpoint by jeremy Jackson & Steve chapple was a great book. I had to check out lots of books and put them down early on in order to end up with this one. Just like movies, not every book is for everyone.

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