I like reading. But you know what I like more? The idea of reading. Because the idea of reading doesn’t require me to actually read all those printed words, page after page after page. When I get to the end of the page, I flip it–and there’s more words?! I was just really proud of myself that I finished the one, and now you’re hitting me with another? My ideal book would be that after every–I’ll be generous–three pages, the fourth page just says, “Congrats, buddy! You’re doing great!”
Ah, but the idea of reading! All that requires me to do is visualize me, sitting in a luxurious wingback chair by a fireplace, wearing an elegant smoking jacket, holding a thick hardbound book in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other, and being very very smart. Because I’m reading. Now that sounds like a good time, right? Because people who read are always so smart and interesting and cool. They spout off author’s names like I spout off the words to the “Mr. Bucket” commercial jingle from the 1990s. The idea of reading and being well-read means sophistication.
But in reality, reading is me sitting in a very small apartment, trying desperately to focus on reading rather than checking my phone, progressing very slowly through a book that my wife has already read and read much faster than I have. And for what? So someone can ask me how it was, and I can say “good!” or “really good!” and desperately hope that there are no followup questions. Because by the time I’ve finished it, I’ve already forgotten the specifics, and chances are there was at least one character whose name I never learned. Like, never. Like, every time I read his or her name I thought it was a new character until I leafed backward and realized he or she was introduced in the first ten pages. And with nonfiction? Forget it. Unless I take chapter notes like I’m still in college, I invariably lose the through line of an argument and end up just having to say, “well, this person seems smart and like they worked really hard on this. They’re probably right.”
There is however, something therapeutic in books of a certain length, books that I can’t finish in one sitting no matter how hard I try because last time I checked, sleep deprivation was still fatal. With a movie, all of life’s problems are introduced, complicated, and resolved all within the span of two or three (I’m looking at you Interstellar) hours. But a good long book will make you sit in the midst of heart-wrenching drama and wait–wait until you’re done with work or driving home or brushing your teeth for the full dentist-recommended two minutes. And in that way, it’s very helpful in dealing with real-life troubles, which seldom allow themselves to be unraveled in the course of an evening, even if you really, really want to stay up to find out what happens. And sadly, the idea of reading doesn’t impart this same patience. Unless I just imagined the idea of me being patient, and wearing an elegant smoking jacket in wingback chair. I’ll give that a shot first, I guess.