The year I stopped reading

30 Dec

I can’t entirely blame the loss of my reading habit on the pandemic, because I stopped reading in February. As I recall, I became engrossed in “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu in January, and then…nothing. There were two books I picked up and abandoned in February: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney and “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell, which I found excruciating. I always did my reading during my commute, pulling my current novel out of my bag and reading it on the J-Church, between Church and 20th and Montgomery stations in the morning, and then Montgomery to Church and 24th in the afternoons. As the cars ambled by Dolores Park, the doors blocked by strollers and nannies, I pulled out my book again and got through a few more pages. For whatever reason, I found that I could only read during that in-between place that was not work and not home. The ferry, the bus, the trolley car. Occasionally, a café, like the big, comfy chair at the Philz in the Castro, where I would often sit and read for an hour or so. Once I stopped commuting and I stayed home all day, my fiction-reading ceased.

But not for lack of trying. In addition to the two books above, I tried reading “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward and “Circe” by Madeleine Miller. And maybe under different circumstances I would have finished them both, but I only got about a third of the way through the first, and barely into the second, without getting any further. Is it because I’ve lost my physical space for reading? Or have I lost my desire, my mental space?

I’ve tried picking up new books during this time. I’ve tried reading, because I don’t know who I am if I’m not a reader. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had my nose in a book. It feels like an important part of who I am. Susan the reader, that’s how I’ve always been described. Social media is great for keeping up with friends and jokes and keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening. But to get absorbed in a well-told story, in a world of the author’s own making, all in my head, populated by an ever-changing cast made up of the people I see every day- that’s an experience that I cherish, and that seems to be fading from me with each abandoned book.

I hope to leave this weird aversion to novel-reading behind with the rest of 2020. I hope to finish my current book, the second book in the “Three-Body Problem” trilogy, and resume my residence in the worlds of novels. I miss it there.

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