Reader's Block


I force myself to read non-fiction because, in terms of reading, I figure it's the best use of my time. I like to learn new things and non-fiction is a direct path to that. But I have a problem.
Case Study: Tinder Box 
Beloved highlighter in hand. A flurry of markings and notes fill the margins. I don't know where Rajasthan is. Better research EVERYTHING ABOUT IT before proceeding! Wikipedia! Google Maps! Hey! A New York Times article on wedding crashing in Udaipur HAHAHA that sounds like diaper!
Do you get where this is going? I got to page 70 in Tinder Box like six months ago and haven't finished it. I call it reader's block. BEHOLD: A sampling of The Bookshelf of Forgotten Dreams.

Here's the thing about being an intense person: Everything becomes a chore. I can't just read a non-fiction book. I have to make sure I completely understand EVERYTHING on EVERY PAGE before proceeding. I can't just read the scriptures for ten minutes. I have to decide what reference book(s) to read in conjunction with my scripture study to help fill in any holes or give context. I get so overwhelmed by expectations I have of everything I do that I don't actually . . . do.

Or I'll take the easier route and do the next-best thing. Which, if we're referencing reading non-fiction books, is reading the news. And yet...
Much in the same way that the feuilletons of Kraus’s day occupied readers’ attention to the near-exclusion of worthwhile reading (“furnishing casual readers everywhere with the most agreeable of excuses for avoiding literature” as Kraus put it), the internet “tempts everyone,” writes Franzen, “to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking.” The price we pay for this keeping up is time — it takes up a lot of time to see what everyone is saying — and, still, we’re left with an anxiety that attends to what Franzen calls “the restlessness of who or what is considered hip nowadays.” Here, again, Kraus — despite fighting particular figures and battles that have long since been forgotten by all but a few scholars — seems undeniably relevant when he writes that “culture can’t catch its breath.” (via)
When it comes to reading the news, the law of diminishing marginal utility is very much in play.  Do you know what the result is of all the hundreds of hours of news-reading I've done over the last few years? Knowing a whole little about a whole lot. I'm tired of that. I want to be more focused. I want to know a lot about just a few things that really matter to me, and for that you need books.

I read something interesting yesterday about how we shouldn't dictate our schedule by what we have time for, but by what we have energy for. I like that. I once made a Word document called "Daily Progress" and on it I divvied up my daily pursuit into categories--Spiritual Growth, Intellectual Growth, Development of Skills, Physical Health, etc. And under each category, there were bullet points with tasks to complete each day, usually with an associated time commitment (30 minutes of scripture study, 20 minutes of Arabic study, etc).

Obviously, this system did not last long. What my "Daily Progress" did not account for was schedule variations that made ticking off every box every day impossible. So I like the approach of parceling out my energy rather than my time. Reading non-fiction for 30 minutes requires a lot more energy than browsing the Internet for 30 minutes, which is perhaps why I often default to the latter. Instead of slowly draining my energy throughout the day, maybe it's best to bang it all out in a blaze of glory and then go to bed earlier having done more. (What a concept!)

Here's to more focus and less distraction. Here's to spending my time not ticking off checkboxes, but pursuing that which fulfills me and stretches me. To accepting that those pursuits will ebb and flow with the tide of days. But more than anything, here's to words. Words found on pages, not on screens. Words that teach, not inform or opine. Words you can lift to your nose and smell.


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