Once a Reader, Always a Reader–Just in a Different Way

I’ve always been a reader.

I don’t really remember learning to read. My mom read me books, and then I started reading books. I have a distinct memory of sitting in a Kindergarten or first grade classroom while the teacher went over a primary reading worksheet she’d just given us, quietly reading myself the instructions printed at the bottom for the teacher.

Throughout childhood and into adulthood, I was a voracious reader. Books, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, posters–if it had words, I was on it. I was a frequent flyer at whatever library I happened to be near, and I haunted book sales and bookstores, new and used.

My reading was as indiscriminate as it was voracious. I read fiction and non-fiction, skinny young adult books and hefty 800-page tomes. I didn’t finish every book I started, but I was willing to give most anything a try.

In 2006, I began trying to track the books I read. I didn’t manage a complete list that year or the next, but I read at least 114 that year and 71 in 2007. In 2008, I read 125, though I dropped to 95 in 2009. But in 2010, I rebounded to 121.

In 2011, the total dropped to 61. Looking back, that seems ominous, a harbinger of what was to come. At the time, I put it down to burnout and exhaustion, if I put it down to anything. By the end of 2012, I should have known something was wrong, and my reading reflects that–just 40 books.

Then, of course, my buddy Bob was detected and evicted.

Hasn’t Been the Same Since

Reading books is one of the things I miss most, right up there with driving and counted thread embroidery. I do still read, both on the computer through a text-to-speech program and through audiobooks–in particular, the digital talking book machine and cartridges I receive from the NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and I’m grateful to have those, but it’s not the same.

There’s nothing quite the same as the feel of a paper book in your hands, the steady accumulation of finished pages, the smudges of ink on your fingertips.

I was a much faster reader then. I could take in entire paragraphs at a glance, and sometimes it felt as though I was absorbing great swathes of print directly into my brain, without ever having to slow down for individual letters and words.

Now, I’m constrained to one word, one syllable, one sound at a time. True, I could speed up both the computer and the digital reader, but I could never absorb audio text with the same fluidity which was mine with print.

Still, the numbers are on the increase. In 2013, the year of my brain surgery and recovery, I read no books until well into the second half of the year, but I finished the year with three.

Last year, I managed 11 – nearly a book a month. This year, I’m up to 10.

To be strictly accurate, perhaps I’d have to include the short stories and novel manuscripts I’ve read over the past two years, though I suppose you could argue that critiquing is quite a different kind of reading. And none of those figures ever included my online reading, which can be quite far-ranging. (I can tell you, without reference to statistics, that that, too, dipped dramatically in the latter half of 2012 and dwindled to almost nothing as 2013 advanced.)

Accepting the Changes

I guess the takeaway from all of this is that, much as I miss it, I’m never going to be able to read as efficiently with my ears as I once did with my eyes. It’s slower, and there’s really no getting around it. It takes more effort, too, and sometimes it seems to take longer to process what I’ve read.

But I can (and do!) still enjoy the printed word, even if I have to have it translated to an audio format.

But I suppose it’s no wonder I dream about books so often, or that I still have favorites on the shelf.

Are you a reader? Do you track the books you read? Any favorites you’d like to discuss in the comments?

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3 thoughts on “Once a Reader, Always a Reader–Just in a Different Way

  1. I, too, absorb books by the paragraph vs. by the word, and I love the feeling of a book in my hand the sound of the pages as they turn. Also helpful is the ability to page back a chapter and remind yourself of the character’s hair color or first name.

    Just read the damnedest thing: “A Reliable Wife.” It kept twisting and turning and had me right up to the end. It’s part Gothic drama and part modern psychological thriller. Very, very interesting.

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  2. I definitely think you should count reading unpublished manuscripts in your total, because that benefits me personally. Also, it seems like most of the reading I do these days is for critiquing.

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    1. 🙂 Hey, I’m happy to critique for you any time you’ll have me! And so glad you dropped by!

      It’s funny–the other day, I was about to recommend a novel to somoene. “I recently read this great book, where- Oh, wait. It’s not actually in print or available to read outside this particular critique group yet…” lol Oh, well.

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