I can’t remember when I wasn’t a reader.

Even those years of which I remember little, I remember the books.

Dick and Jane. Little Golden Books. That 1960s set of Bible Stories for Children with the mid-century fabulous illustrations. (It occurs to me that Mark Ryden may have read those same books as they are the illustrations his work most reminds me of.) Some boy-detective-and-his-girl-sidekick book that I can’t remember the name of, but I remember listening to The Three Degrees sing When Will I See You Again on repeat as I read and re-read it. Oh, and Candy, Come Home, the first book to punch me in the face and leave me sobbing for Candy, the little dog lost in the snowstorm

And Pippi Longstocking. Always, always Pippi. In third and fourth grade if someone came into the school library and wanted one of the three Pippi books, the librarian would send someone down to my class to get them from me. I carried them in my plaid book bag to and from, every day. Why no one ever thought to just buy me the damn set I’ll never know, but it was okay. I had the set from the library, and I carried them like a shield.

At 12 I discovered Interview with the Vampire, and my world turned upside down. I could write a whole piece on how much that book impacted my life – and what it was like to read it in a time when it was the only book, when Lestat de Lioncourt was nothing more than a small side character, easily dismissed and disliked.

I could keep going and talk about the romance books of my teen years that gave me all kinds of fever dreams (and truly hideous ideas of what love and romance should look like); about Tolkien and Sylvia Plath in college; about The Handmaid’s Tale and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 9 1/2 Weeks in my early 20s.

Erica Jong. Kaye Gibbons. Carl Hiaasen. Rita Mae Brown (with and without Sneaky Pie Brown). Douglas Adams. Sue Grafton. Stephen King, always, always Stephen King (especially his short story collections, that’s always his best work).

All of that and so much more. I was a reader. I was bookish.

Now I’m not, and I don’t know why.

If I could pinpoint when it started, I might be able to guess more accurately what’s behind it. I don’t know when it started; I just know that one day I sat up and realized I absolutely could not remember the last time I’d read a novel. Or even what the last one was. I could think of plenty of nonfiction books – new age paganism and witchcraft and needlework and every arty crafty thing I could think of.

But no novels.

So I set about trying to fix that. I tried to re-read my favorites. Always a good place to start, right? Yeah, not this time. I tried to read The Shining and barely made it to the hotel before I put it down (I suddenly hated Jack Torrance and cringed over Halloran the Magical Negro). I tried The Three Musketeers; not even my undying love for Athos could hold me long enough for Lady de Winter to start wreaking havoc.

I couldn’t even re-read Bloom County or Red Ranger Came Calling. So I stopped trying. I decided to stop being a reader. To stop calling myself a reader.

But I don’t know how to be comfortable with that. I don’t know how to keep holding my head up around people who live for books.

And then there are the opinions about those who don’t read: John Waters tells people not to fuck us (“If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”). Henry Rollins, my beloved (and yes, problematic) Henry Rollins, would leave me on the side of the road on our first date (“You’re not much of a reader? Well I’m not much of a dinner buyer. Get out!”). Stephen King emphatically believes I can’t be a writer (“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time {or the tools} to write. Simple as that.”) Although time isn’t my issue, desire is – but I think he’d be even more emphatic about that, don’t you?

I keep trying. I guess I’m making some progress. About a year ago (year and a half, maybe?), I read – and finished – Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. In the last six months, I’ve managed one more King novella (Blockade Billy), and my first fanfic (a serial piece about Tom Hiddleston as a vampire hunter. I started it on a whim and read it straight through in one sitting; I was surprised by how much I liked it).

But for every piece I’ve managed, there are plenty I haven’t. I couldn’t get into Mr. King’s The Dome. More likely, I just didn’t want to. The bad guy put me off so completely, I didn’t even care to stick around to see him get his due. I got about a third of the way through Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I liked it – a lot, actually – but it is so long. It didn’t help that I was reading on a laptop, on a three-week loan from the library. I’ve been relentlessly trying to get into David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and just can’t, even though two of my favorite reader type people highly recommended it.

The hard truth is it seems I no longer have much use for stories (movies and television have also gone the way of the books, but they were never quite as important to me). I don’t know if I should blame it on chemical depression or the subsequent medication for it. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s all the above? I just don’t know.

Once I was bookish. Now I’m not. And I don’t know how to be comfortable in this new skin.

By Brenda

40-something-something stay home mom, floating somewhere between traditional and strange. I’m addicted to music, making things and my computer.

8 replies on “Bookish”

Could it be that you’ve simply outgrown these writers? You talk about re-reading a lot. It could be that your standards have changed about what constitutes a good story. Recently I re-read some Joanne Harris (my favourite writer, like, ever when I was 15) and it was so…bland. Disappointing. I just couldn’t finish it. It’s sad, but normal. Maybe try something different from the library?

And you still read a lot! Fiction isn’t inherently better than any other genre. Non-fiction is what is natural for you right now, so roll with it. Enjoy it, learn from it, let it affect you. Sound familiar?

So don’t worry too much about this. You’re still a reader. Enjoy!

Re-reading has always been a big part of my reading diet, but I do recognize that I have … not so much outgrown some of my faves but see them in a different light now (the whole ‘wow how did I not see this is so problematic’ issue that comes up once consciousness of social issues is raised).

I’ve been all up and down the library (there are a lot of books I didn’t mention that I’ve started and not finished, by familiar and new authors). I think that’s what has me hitting the panic button – I’ve not really found anything to (re)light my fire.

But yeah, I am really grateful for non-fiction, at least I know I can still read something.

While this makes me extremely empathetic (I cilcked the button!) and it made me want to go read a novel, I would like to point out: you still read! You mentioned the non-fiction, you read many Persephone articles (at least I assume!) and probably a lot else. I think you’re being hard on yourself, especially with all the quotes about people who don’t read. Reading is important for a number of reasons, but a very important one is that it’s fun. It is a leisure activity, and if it were taught as such, we’d probably have a lot more readers in this world. So I think you should read what you like and what’s enjoyable for you, and don’t beat yourself up. You’re still a reader!

I do, and that I can read non-fiction does help. Honestly if I couldn’t read at all I don’t know what I’d do. I just can’t help but wonder why stories are so hard.

I miss that sense of falling into a book, of falling for a character or place. Reading books is akin to astral travel or something, you know? I want to travel. I just can’t seem to.

Oh I definitely sympathize. Reading novels is about as good as it gets for me. But as a (hopefully) future teen librarian, I think it’s important to always remember (because goodness knows I forget) that there’s not a “right” way to read.

I do wonder about stories though. I think finding the right book would help. I went through a slow reading spell a while back, and was jolted out of it when I found a can’t-put-it-down book that I read in less than a day. It got me back into reading more in general – just being able to experience how great reading could be. Good luck!

This really sounds like a horrible future to me. I exist out of books and if I read less it’s because I don’t like the book, no because I don’t like the reading.
But I think you shouldn’t try to make too much of an issue out of it because making issues out of things is 98% of the time never fun and you never know how things can change/come along the way.

I’m assuming this is similar to writer’s block, in that there’s no real way to fix it except time and patient effort. Of course that’s a big part of the problem, patience is as foreign to me as not reading, but there’s no way to fix that either. It is what it is, and I try to console myself with the idea that I can still read for knowledge, which is a pleasure in it’s own right.

I thought I was the only one with this kind of problem. Sigh. Until I read “About A Boy” not long ago, I hadn’t read a novel – really read one, for myself, that wasn’t prescribed by a professor and forced me to over-think every nuance of the work – since before my wedding last year. It was a stroke of luck and the attitude of “Hey, it’s only a dollar at Goodwill” that lead me to that book at all, and from there I was stuck again until a friend lent me her copy of Warwick Davis’s autobiography (which was amazing and I digested it in three or four days). Now? I have to hope that my continued love for Omri in “The Indian In The Cupboard” that will help me get through rereading it and finally progress to another book in the series that I haven’t read. You aren’t alone.

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