I’ve been reading two different books, on and off, for about a year now. One is Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game,” and the other is Ross Lockridge Jr.’s “Raintree County.” They are both wonderful books, and I get so caught up in reading them that I sometimes feel the authors wrote them for me specifically. One major issue: this only lasts for about 45 minutes, and then I lose my focus entirely.
But now, in my senior year of college, I can barely concentrate enough to complete just one book in under a year. I think about reading in my spare time all day at class, but when the time comes, I have to force myself to get though just one chapter. And never mind reading for class – my brain trails off before I can even finish a sentence.
Maybe I’m becoming even duller, or maybe I’m just preoccupied and stressed, but I don’t understand why I can’t seem to become engrossed in books anymore. Browsing bookstores and libraries is one of my favorite things to do, but my attention span is so short that I can just about read the back cover summaries until my interest is lost.
The other night I had a good deal of free time after I finished my work and thought it was the perfect opportunity to crack open a book. To set the mood I poured some wine, sipped it, gulped it and then poured some more wine. When I finally began reading, I was too distracted by everything around me to make any significant progress (and my wine was almost gone). So I poured some more and then felt too groggy to even continue trying to read. I don’t know why I believe or listen to other people who say it’s relaxing to drink and read – it’s just frustrating.
I also don’t like living vicariously through a book when I could be out there in the world living. I’d rather experience everything around me first hand, than shut everything else out.
When I was in London, I began reading Henry James’s “The Portrait of a Lady.” I’d read it on the bus, on the Tube and in Hyde Park, each time thoroughly distracted by my surroundings and unable to go on for even an hour. I took the first opportunity to stop reading it when James killed off the American halfway through.
I’ve tried many other classics, including Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” but had to stop reading it because I felt like a pedophile (I’d usually have to shower after a paragraph).
I’m boring now.
My kind of a page-turner is an academic article about narratology, or new breakthroughs in mapping out different strains of ancient Greek particles. Reading things in English is just so overrated. I even edit the FreeP sometimes, just to be cynical.
I think I’ve figured it out: my major is the bane of my existence. My brain has to work so hard to concentrate on piecing together sentences in Greek and Latin, so when it has the luxury of reading in my native tongue, it just kind of wanders off into space. It just doesn’t want to focus; it’s smarter than me.
Every time I pick up a book, a metaphor-detector or some other sinister mechanism in my head is activated, and all I can think about is how certain literary devices are functioning within the plot of the story. I automatically start comparing protagonists to ancient heroes or biblical figures and try to guess how and when they will meet their demise.
I also judge other authors way too hard, even though I myself couldn’t produce anything worthy of publishing. “Nice Oedipus reference,” I hear myself saying sarcastically, or, “Wow, the Jesus character died? Who saw that one coming?”
I’d like to say I’m a disciplined, focused person who can spend an hour doing boring yoga or meditate in a park all afternoon, but I’m just not. I consider doing homework in advance a form of procrastination when I really should be studying, which shows just how efficient yet messed up I really am.
But then again, I always seem to write these columns (800 words) in 30 minutes or less, so maybe I have a different calling …
Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.