Around the time that I graduated college and moved back home, I decided I wanted to be a Reader.
Sure, I’d read in the past. Loved Harry Potter. Devoured pop culture and sports books. I’d even read the occasional novel just for the heck of it.
But I knew I was missing out on the most intellectually stimulating form of culture: Literature. I love breaking down complexities of TV shows and movies and music. I love thinking about plots and characters and the way stories are told, and trying to decode the meaning and impetus behind a narrative. So why not immerse myself in the most historically proven, open-ended, intrinsically complex medium for narrative art?
And yet… I’d been telling myself this for years. Logically, I’ve known for a long time that I should be a Reader. But I’ve never really followed up on it. I could have a book in front of me for months and never read a page of it.
So, after I graduated, I started taking the endeavor seriously. I did everything I could to become a Reader short of actually reading. I scoured book review sites. I bought new bookshelves, started taking out books from the library, found hundreds of books on wholesale (see the picture above). I got a GoodReads account. I found plenty of books that I could tell from the cover and description and great Amazon reviews that I would just love.
But it didn’t happen. Every now and then, I would read a book, like it, pat myself on the back, and reward myself by playing some video games or watching Simpsons reruns. A month later, I’d do it again.
Why? Everything was in place. I’m smart enough. I have discretionary income and time. What was holding me back? Why didn’t I become a Reader?
I’m not entirely sure. Part of it is the lack of visceral immediacy of books compared to the other media I love. Sure, some books hook you by the end of the first page. But I couldn’t even always make it to the end of page one.
Another part of it is that I don’t really like the physical act of reading. I can’t really get comfortable and I get tired of holding the book and sitting in one position all the time (though it doesn’t bother me when I’m the computer, for some reason).
Fast forward to two or so months ago. I again decide I’m going to be a Reader.
I find the audiobook for Storm of Swords on my laptop, and listen to it every day on the morning to and from work. And… holy cow. That’s a story, with characters and layers and twists, with love and heartbreak and comeuppance, with passion and power and an air of mystery. I didn’t just love it, I adored it. If there was a six-star option on GoodReads, that’s what I would have given it.
And — here’s the crazy and important part — that book was so unusually good that I started reading another book. And I finished that book. And it, too, was unusually good. So I started yet another book. That one was, aside from a central character and philosophy that bothered me, also unusually good. Now I’m reading another book. It, too, is unusually good.
And I’ve come to the realization that one of two things is true: Either I’ve gotten really lucky with my book choices a bunch of times in a row, or books are good. Like, really good. Better than I’ve been giving them credit for. They allow for more complex and satisfying narratives than other media.
The truth is probably somewhere in between those two possibilities. Still, I can’t help but think that my frame of reference for what is unusually good is actually just plain good for books. This raised expectation is a pretty big revelation. It gives me even more incentive to read, because the expected payoff is even higher.
I wouldn’t yet say that I’m a Reader. I do feel like I’m getting there, though this could just be an extended high point for the cycle I described earlier of “read for a short bit, don’t read for a long bit.”
But I want to get there. I want to be smarter and better-read than I am. I want to keep getting the thrill I have the past few months from great books by great writers. I want to some day understand these great stories enough to make my own.
So here it is, my proclamation with this post (which premiers the “Books” post category):
I, Dan S., will become a Reader, and I will continue to keep the readers of Earn This posted on my attempt to fill the biggest hole in my narrative art life (besides not having watched all of The Wire of course).