A Brief History of Reading Part II
(a story continued)
So what happened?
Why has fiction reading ebbed away? No single reason presents itself, but like certain public events, credit and blame can be spread around in a number of directions.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself trying to explain why I don’t presently read much in the way of fiction. I was talking to a friend at church. She did not really even ask me, but we were both in the church library. And well, talk often turns to books when one is in the church library.
I told her how I missed fiction reading so much, and how I was literally grieving its loss sometimes, yet no amount of casting about turned up the energy for picking up a book of fiction at the moment. She wondered aloud about reasons that I might have dropped the practice. Nothing rang quite true. I volunteered reasons. They weren’t exactly right either.
I can count on two hands the number of books of fiction I’ve finished in two and a half years. None of them especially compelling. Most of them read on vacations. A small stack of others I started, but quickly lost interest in reading. This list is possibly the most disturbing.
Almost never did I fail to finish a book once I started it over the prior 15 years. Even Annie Dillard‘s The Living, one of the most difficult and exhausting books (by an otherwise excellent author) I ever forced myself to finish. The irony of the title was complete. It was all about death and depression and it was excruciating to read . . . but it became a personal challenge to finish that book. And I did. It is one of a handful of counterpoints to an otherwise lengthy and nourishing list of books, joyful reading on the whole.
Here are some of the twists and turns of my life, which I’ve come to give credit (and blame) for my loss of fiction reading . . . .
… beginning a new full-time job demanded a kind of mental and emotional energy that left me with less focus for evening story-reading.
… a few months after I began my new job I also signed a contract to write a book for Baylor Press. I’ve written (and edited) over 260 pages on that project alone in the last 24 months. I’ve also written and published a number of other things in this time with no idea how many pages I’ve generated.
. . . all this writing (and teaching) means I’m doing as much or more scholarly and professional reading as the years I was in graduate school.
. . . I read way more children’s books than ever. One of my daughter’s earliest complete sentences came when we would go pick her up out of her crib in the mornings and she would say, “Daddy read a book?” or “Mama read a book?” It is still among her most favorite things in the world. I read her one between flipping pancakes this morning. At night we are working our way through the Little House series. We’re up to reading By the Shores of Silver Lake one chapter at a time each evening.
. . . I decided in earnest to begin blogging when I took the job in January of 2009. I did not post my first blog until Advent, ten months later. Yet my slow preparation and planning for that writing, and internal process of narrating new material that I could share in a different public voice meant burning yet another candle of energy, leaving me less concern for reading the fiction of others.
. . . and then there is teaching . . . preparation, the classes themselves, grading.
. . . and a new turn to music in several genres. I’ve continued over my adult life to add new music to my listening list, and a number of new artists began to make regular appearances as I finished my dissertation, but the whole enterprise leapt ahead as I began traveling frequently and thinking theologically about music with greater intention.
It seems I carry around quite a stack of stories with me these days: stories of the women in my study, stories of the pastors I’m interviewing, stories of my academic disciplines and underlying biblical narratives, stories embedded in of the music I listen to, stories of my community of faith, stories I’m narrating for the sake of writing here and elsewhere. The cumulative effect seems to be that my arms are too full to carry yet more stories. This does not leave me feeling short on joy or lacking pleasure in reading generally. But still. I miss the practice of reading stories narrated by others . . . maybe someday that will change yet again. We’ll see.