2021-09-06 Reading books

The window shutters are down and a yellow lamp is burning. The doorways lead into the dark, but here I am, reading a book. Somebody is moving around in the apartment. My eyes race across the lines; I need to finish this before bedtime!

This post is about reading books, growing old, and needing glasses.

One part of my brain is in charge of looking at the letters, figuring out what the words are, and sending them to the bit that handles meaning. But sometimes the meaning part loses interest, and I start thinking about something else. – I can't read 📚, by JBanana

In senior high I was reading a book a day most days, maybe not every day but say more than fifty books per year. Then years of screens and blogs happened and then I found myself being unable to read books, a few years back. – Sandra’s reply, on Idiomdrottning

I’m in a similar situation. When I was in high school, I read a ton of books. Not a book a day, but still. I did not know anybody who read as much as I did. Then years of screens and blogs happened and then I found myself being unable to read books, a few years back.

Now, it started slowly. In university, I had to read a lot of papers and non-fiction books. I learned about USENET. I read voraciously, online. I posted a lot of messages. Then I learned about wikis. I read voraciously, online. I edit a lot of wiki pages. I had a static one-person wiki that I wrote using an Emacs mode I had created some m4 macros to generate the web pages. I spent hours and days in multi-user text environments (Lochinver MUD and Elendor MUSH, mostly). I read a lot and I wrote a lot. Blogs happened and I used my wiki for blogging. I read even more, and wrote more. I re-discovered role-playing games and the Old School Renaissance and its blogs. I read a lot, I wrote a lot. Google+ came and went. More reading and writing.

But no reading of books. I grew old and didn’t notice. My ribs hurt if I read in bed, lying on my belly. My back hurt when I read at the table. Increasingly, my head hurt. I decided that I just didn’t like reading books. All the fantasy novels seemed to be pastiches of each other. The cyberpunk books seemed to be cool vignettes with barely any plot. I liked the Uplift novels. I liked the Malazan novels. Game of Thrones was cruel and I dropped it. The Witcher was bleak and I dropped it.

Increasingly, I bought books and didn’t finish them. Then my wife told me that perhaps I should finish the books I had rather than buy more. I stopped. I didn’t want to order books from Amazon any more. Plus, I was buying books because I imagined the reading to be great, but then the stories weren’t great, the plot elements seemed familiar, my mind started wandering, and I got a light headache.

It took me a few years to realise that perhaps the headache was due to my eyes deteriorating. I just needed some reading glasses! And no more reading in bed. No more reading on the floor. Just sit on the couch like other adults.

Wearing the glasses also gave me a headache, but it was a different kind of headache. I would get used to it.

And recently I decided to pick up and finish a series of books that I had on my bookshelf, largely unread. “The Black Company”, by Glen Cook. Four omnibus editions, about 2800 pages in total. I just finished them. Those were good books.

The Black Company is a series of dark fantasy books written by American author Glen Cook. The series combines elements of epic fantasy and dark fantasy as it follows an elite mercenary unit, The Black Company, through roughly forty years of its approximately four-hundred-year history. – The Black Company, on Wikipedia

Spoilers in this paragraph! ⚠ You start reading and think it’s a military fantasy but then you realise that it’s about growing old. What keeps it interesting is that story changes seem random and not dictated by traditional expectations, so at first you think: huh, random! But then it turns out the book is also about how to deal with the vagaries of life.

It ended up being a good read; a page turner to the very end.


Then again, if you want to read my current take on growing old, I have a blog post about that, too.

Hey, just wanted to let you know: If you’re around 30 right now, remember that this is as good as it gets as far as physical health is going. – 2018-01-30 To The Young Ones


There’s also all the other stuff we read all the time nowadays. To quote my recent Teleread article:

Why it matters? Because, frankly, book publishing these days looks tired and adrift. Maybe people read more, assuming we can trust surveys, but I’m not sure they read books. Indies struggle to sell; big publishers report moving fewer units (yet making bigger profits, go figure); and don’t even get me started about what can be found in Romanian bookstores. Certainly most of my own reading time is spent online, jumping from blog to blog, going back, opening more tabs.

And like you, I’m conditioned to think we’re supposed to read Intellectual Stuff. But the world has changed and so have we. It’s time to stop feeling guilty.

Felix 2021-09-07 15:00 UTC

Working on it. I still feel guilty! 😂

– Alex 2021-09-07 15:31 UTC

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