"Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am."
Thus begins a marvelous essay that was printed in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday by David Ulin, book editor for the times. The essay is called "The Lost Art of Reading," and I recommend everyone who cares enough about the subject to read it.
It's a topic that I've been wanting to write about for several weeks. I find myself reading less and less nowadays. Now, I know why I'm reading less and less. That's a no-brainer. It's everything that fills up most of our days: work, driving, errands, keeping up a house and, in my case, a very large yard, walking dogs, keeping up with emails, facebook, and after that, trying to have some kind of social life. Time was when I could read for at least a couple of hours every day: one hour in the morning when I get up; another hour at night. Now I do spend the mornings reading, but many times it's the newspaper, which may or may not be a satisfying experience. As far as the evenings go, forget it. I'm lucky if I get 15 minutes in before I fall asleep.
But what disturbs me is that when I look at the distractions I listed above, I'm having a hard time deciding whether or not I want to give up any of these for reading. Now that's scary. I have to have a house because of having two large dogs and actually I prefer a house to a condo. So doing away with yard maintenance isn't an option. Also I don't want to give up my garden. Work, my dogs, my social life, emails, are all necessities. I have sworn off Facebook on occasion, but I find myself sneaking back into the kitchen to take a quick look ("Has anyone commented on my post?"). And that in and of itself can be distracting. And addicting.
I think the turning point for me was when I bought my first house back in 2002. I immediately was swept up in house painting, gardening, refurbishing, whatever. Add to that the fact that the only houses I could afford were located in an area 45 miles away from work. Overnight my commute went from 30 minutes a day to 3 hours. I had entered that twilight zone of home ownership: where people go when they want to own a home, where they spend 20-30 years of their lives getting up at 4 a.m. to get on the freeway and not getting home until 9 p.m., and spending your entire weekends sleeping off the commute and working....around the house.
Well, I got out of that, and now I'm renting. I work from home, so I only have a commute one day a week. I have someone come and cut my lawns now every two weeks. And I still don't have time to read.
I was reading another blog recently, Gary Dobb's fine blog The Tainted Archive, in which this subject was discussed. A lot of people commented that they read on the trains to work. But that isn't an option for people in the Los Angeles area, because of our very limited mass transit operations.
I'd like to hear other people's feedback on this. And don't forget to read Ulin's essay in the Times.