I hated middle-school with a burning passion. I have never been, before or since, that unhappy.
That unhappiness had an upside; I could read a book a day. The ability lasted for several years, say, a thousand books. I escaped into books, which were mostly science fiction and fantasy, but also some historical fiction, some literary fiction, some of that stuff blurs categories, and some non-fiction. Before middle-school I’d read comics, but I couldn’t buy them fast enough to keep me distracted from my daily misery as a 6th, 7th and 8th grader.
Forty years later, I find myself wanting to read like that again. And I can’t, or at least, I haven’ figured it out, yet. So I thought I’d list some of the reasons I read like a demone then, and think through some answers.
- I had three channels of network TV, and a blurry PBS, on a set I shared with at least two people. (We had two TVs for a family of four.)
- We had no video games.
- We had no VCR or way to see movies other than going to the theater.
- We had no second run theaters; you could only see the movies that were out at that moment.
- I hated all sports.
- I had yet to become interested in politics or acquired a newspaper habit.
- I had a handful of bookish friends who had other sedate pursuits (model building, drawing, role playing gaming). We hung out often, but there was no way to even talk to them after say, ten o’clock.
- Because we had one phone till I was in high school.
In short, what the hell else was there for me to do?
Don’t get me wrong, I watched plenty of TV. But there were blocks of time when there was nothing on the three channels I could even pretend to be interested in.
What the hell else was there to do?
Play cards and board games? Did that a little. Smoke pot drink beer and listen to vinyl and cassettes? Wouldn’t do that until I was older.
To summarize: It was easier to read a shitload, back then, because we had very very little else to do.
We roamed freely… through undeveloped land and construction sites and junkyards, climbing hills to hang out near water towers, and we went to lakes and played frisbee, a bit, my only sport, and we swam in pools and lakes, sure, a bit of that, a bit of travel, a bit of mall-wandering.
But books filled endless vistas of unstructured time, like water seeking a level, soaking into every nook and cranny, ever crevice.
To read like I was fourteen again I need to turn away from a world of video, from a new golden age of television, from the unwatched movies of the last century, of which there are literally thousands of classics, and ten thousand guilty pleasures, from gaming both casual and profound, from politics and news and social media and activism and the needs of a body which demands exercise to not hurt.
Tools which help.
- Social media blockers like Freedom.
- E-readers and e-reading apps on smart phones.
- Audiobooks to listen to while walking.
- On-line communities to talk about books with.
Finally, and sadly, perhaps the biggest incentive to read again, is this. A world I want to escape from.