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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

Reading ADD: Who, me?

They say that admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step toward recovery. And this week I’ve discovered: I have a problem. I’m calling it Reading ADD — but it might as well be called the online disease.

Last week I wrote about the Slow Reading movement, and about the research that is showing us what the flitting from bit to bit that we do online these days, instead of settling into reading one thing over a half hour or more, is doing to our minds. It really is, I think, a societal attention deficit disorder — we’re almost all of us having trouble focusing on a single sustained thing any more. And so I vowed, pledged and promised — mostly to myself, since I never know if anyone is ever reading these pieces — that I would spend at least half an hour, every evening, reading a book. No links, no texts. No jumping and hopping around. I would read.

I know I feel better when I do this. Last week I compared it to meditation, another practice that I really need to get back to, because I’m so much more centered and focused when I ... but anyway: focus. (ADD!) But over the course of this past week I have realized how hard it has become, simply to invest myself in reading a single thing. I don’t want to read for real! Well, I want to, but it’s so much easier to just open the laptop.

And then I am searching for the best buy on something I don’t need, reading about the latest tawdry celebrity sex scandal (this time it’s the guy from “Seventh Heaven” — eew), watching an old music video on YouTube because my friend Pete sent me the link, we’ve been trading music links and that’s fun ... and before long I think, What are you doing? I actually like the book I’ve been trying to read, it’s a thriller called The Arms Maker of Berlin — I love those WWII thrillers, and this one seems to be homing in on the White Rose resistance movement; I read the book about that years ago — but this hopping-around online has something like the allure of a drug. It’s easy to do it, and you get a quick little rush of escape, which quickly fades into vague regret; but still, it’s easy. So easy.

I’m not giving up! Half an hour is not so much to read, and I can do it. I think I finally managed it, last night before I turned off the light, and the book is getting good. Half an hour a day. Actual sustained reading. When I do this, I tend to feel more settled, more centered, more connected. Online reading offers the allure of connection, but I think that’s mostly false. We’re mostly wasting time there, wasting our need to really connect.

Half an hour. I can do this.  

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