Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading (What?) Is Fundamental

More Than Words - Extreme (mp3)
My Paper Heart - The All-American Rejects (mp3)

Before June 1, I'd only read two books in the last six months. This, in my world, is a huge problem.

For whatever reason -- be it an expectation of my time or the values of my mother or the educational baggage I refuse to leave behind -- when I use the word "reading" as an activity, what I actually mean to say is "reading books." Therefore in recent years I've found myself saying aloud in conversation and to myself hundreds of times: "I'm not reading nearly enough lately."

But I have been reading.

I probably read more on a daily basis now than I ever have in my life, but not "reading books," the only real kind of reading. No, I've been doing cheap and dirty reading. Newspapers, magazines, articles, columns on the Internet. I read articles to keep up with my job, which means lots of stuff about marketing and education. I read stuff to stay (relatively) in tune with current affairs of politics and medicine and psychology. I read funny stuff from Joel Stein... well, I did before he apparently got canned from the Los Angeles Times in late April. I proofread hundreds of words daily my coworkers have written. I receive roughly 100 emails every day to my work address (fewer in the summer, admittedly), another dozen or so to my Gmail account, and another few from Facebook.

Thousands upon thousands of words. Every day.

Yet I still go to bed at night thinking to myself, "I'm not reading enough." Is this a problem exclusive to English majors, or do others out there suffer from this confused situation?

In the last six months, I actually managed to catch up from my backlog of New Yorkers. That single magazine is the albatross of any human being who likes to read good long-form journalism. While non-fiction books tend to wear me about about midway through, a good New Yorker article can feel like a whole damn book yet maintain my energy for the topic at hand. Why the hell, and how the hell those bastards put out a new issue of that magazine on a weekly basis befuddles the ever-lovin' shit out of me.

Reading the New Yorker is like falling into the lightning sand from "The Princess Bride." You fall in, and you gotta have some serious lung capacity and a thick-ass rope to get yourself out of it before you die. And then damn if, not minutes after you get out of there with your life in tact and your lungs in order, another issue doesn't land in your mailbox.

Add to this my Newsweek subscription. This add-on was bad enough a few months and years ago, but the recent redesign has rendered this weekly almost as thick and juicy as the New Yorker. Now I've got two thick-as-hell, packed-to-the-gills with words magazines to swim through every dadgum week. Pile onto these two burdens my magazine version of meth, Entertainment Weekly -- easily the best crapper reading material this side of Weekly World News -- and the thank-God-it's-monthly WIRED subscription.

If I were being fair to myself, getting through even 3/4 of my monthly Newsweek and New Yorker pages, all of my EW, and 1/2 of my WIRED has to border on a novel if not a little more.

So how in the hell do I find myself haunted at times by the feeling that I'm not reading?

Here's my guess, and it's just a guess: I think writers, and people who aspire to be writers, feel some strange obligation to support others in the field. Just as wannabe young angst-filled poets find themselves sitting in coffee shops or bookstores with other young angst-filled wannabe poets and acting like they're paying attention when the other poets read their crappy poems. Just as karaoke addicts suffer through the torture of those no-talent ass clowns because they're fellow karaoke addics.

Or maybe there's reading for information and reading for expansion -- of our imaginations, of our philosophies, of our being -- and maybe all those magazines and Internet articles are too much about the trees and not enough about the forest.

Thankfully, I'm wrapping up my second book of the last three weeks. I Love You Beth Cooper. It's hardly expanding any part of me other than my rabid teen-obsessed immaturity, but it sure has been fun.


Megan Fox said...

Billy, I love a man who reads. I hope you'll come to my movie this weekend. It would mean a lot.


BeckEye said...

I'm aware all the time that I'm not reading nearly enough. But then I hit up YouTube and numb the pain and shame by watching and re-watching old videos of Adam Lambert performing in some cabaret club and I feel a little better.

I just bought "Love is a Mix-Tape" though, and I'm anxious to start it.

Jason said...


Didn't I mention to you when I meet you at your movie premier in Seoul that I read a book a week?

I love you Megs.

troutking said...

Elaine [talking about Kevin the bizarro Jerry]: He reads, Jerry.
Jerry: I read.
Elaine: Books, Jerry, books.
Jerry: Big deal.

Jason said...

Meet? Met? Who cares?

Love the Seinfeld reference Troutking.

John said...

Trout! Miss seeing the Honda in the driveway; the pumpkin in my yard is growing like kudzu and I'm waiting for the phone call from the headmaster to tell me to yank it. Funny that this blog has become a sort of social network....

troutking said...

Hey neighbor! Hope your grant trip was fun and look forward to hearing about it. Suggestion to keep your pumpkin patch: put an Obama sign in your window and he'll never notice the renegade gourds.

Bob said...

John, don't forget I've got Columbine, if yer lookin' for something to read.

jed said...

i've always loved the term "ass clown."