I used to love to read for enjoyment. Somewhere along the way, however, I’ve taken a wrong turn, a left when I should have taken a right. In short, I’ve lost the habit of being a regular reader.
I used to read two, three, four books a week. I’d race through them the way some people race through a plate of hot wings. Well-stocked libraries were my treasures. I considered them my place of solace, my friend. Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, back in the day when it was still open, were my nirvana. I could spend hours perusing up-and-down each aisle finding the perfect book to sink my teeth into and devour in one or two sittings.
Going way back, I was the geeky kid who used to read on the bus to school. I’d scrunch low into the seat, my knees jammed deep into the seat in front of me, and shut out the crazy world in front of me to another time and place. I remember all too well the weird feeling of looking up and seeing the bus pull into the school parking lot and wondering how the thirty minute drive went by so quickly. The day my teacher handed back our Scholastic book order was always one of my favorite days of the month. (My mother paid the bills in our house and we never had a lot of extra money, but somehow she always found a dollar or two for me to buy a book.)
I had a book with me all the time. If I happened to have a spare minute after class, I’d pull out my book and start reading. The time and place didn’t matter. It gave me a break from reality.
The obvious answers
But in recent years, I’ve stopped reading for enjoyment. In fact, I’m down now to only a few books a year and it has me shaking my head in disgust.
Oh I know that work and home responsibilities have taken on increased time. I know too that social media and the web have played a big role in my waning attention span. I come home from work exhausted from my day and I settle in and it’s just too easy to turn on the television or scan Facebook or Twitter to read the latest news or gossip on the Internet.
I lecture myself to read more. When prolific writers talk about the craft of writing they inevitably talk about how a strong reading habit leads to great writing. So I pick up one of the many books on my bedside counter and I start to read. However, the content soon bores me or too much time has elapsed since I first picked up the book and my interest soon fizzles out.
I know who to blame
So of course, I’ve come to blame J.K. Rowling, the author of the immensely popular Harry Potter series. The natural thing to do, right?
Let me explain. Rowling spoiled me. There’s no other word to describe it.
When Harry Potter came along and my kids started to read her books, I was skeptical at first. I remember laughing at the thought of myself getting any enjoyment from the book series. “I’m a grown man. Why would I want to read about wizards and wands, charms and potions, Dumbledore and Voldemort?” I questioned.
Of course, when I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I was hooked. I was immediately transported back to my own childhood and the fanciful stories I used to love to read. I scarfed down each new book like the millions of young adults who made the books best sellers. I couldn’t wait to read the next one and the next one and to compare notes with my kids.
When my daughter begged to go to a late-night (midnight to be exact) book release party at Barnes & Noble to purchase the final installment in the series, I couldn’t have been happier. I loved the characters, their search for truth, and the challenges they overcame. And I’m not even a big sci-fi wizard fan.
You would think that the series would have opened my eyes to what I was missing and got me reading again. You would be wrong. The exact opposite happened. I have huge expectations now for every book that I open. Within the first four sentences, the book has be a classic, it has grip me, or I’m putting it down.
I went back and looked at the introduction to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
A pretty simple beginning, but I swear there are magic in those words. (No pun intended.) No matter, I still have huge expectations.
Getting back up on the saddle
Despite my current situation, I still I push ahead. I’m trying once again to get back into a regular reading routine. And yes, I do recognize that it’s a sign that I need to work on my own book.
In any event, I’m getting there. I’ve had some success lately. I’ve returned to some old favorites. I’ve found my way back to Pat Conroy, a Southern writer, whose personal stories of discipline, friendship, and relationships have long interested me. I pick up a copy of The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, or The Prince of Tides and I’m instantly on board for the long haul. I’ve returned to other favorites, including best selling authors John Grisham, David Baldacci and Mitch Albom and more conventional literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, and Tom Wolfe too.
So this is my long-winded way of crying out for help from my family, friends and blog readers. Do you have any good recommendations? Any books you suggest? Any must-read authors that get you every time you pick-up one of his or her books?
Consider this an SOS call, my very own J.K. Rowling SOS.