This is a guest post by Henry Bankhead, City Librarian of San Rafael.
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Reading: "when do you have time to read?" a co-worker asked me. I'm kind of floored by the question because I'm like addicted to reading? I don't make time to read, I make time not to read, i.e. when do I have time not to read? And what is reading anyway? I think it varies, particularly by individual. And by reading I mostly mean reading fiction? Getting caught up in a narrative because reading of this sort is the original virtual reality where your mind creates the experience through your ingestion/decoding of the words on the page. It's kind of like a huge deal the ability to do this, or lack thereof? It's kind of like or is magic akin to the ability of Harry Potter to walk through platform 9 3/4 to get on the Hogwarts Express. Also, in the series by Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars the first mars colonists are stuck in primitive conditions in tubes under the surface and they talk about how at least they have books, the original virtual reality experience that requires no power etc. to run, to keep them distracted.
On distractedness; it's not sane to be sane in an insane world. Give me my engine of distraction. As distraction in a judgment also being lost in a book is not so much distraction as subtraction or in-traction of even just traction? I'm getting some traction here in this book, don't make me let go! So maybe, just maybe if we lived in utopia there might, just might be less need for me to voraciously consume books? But that's never going to happen so.
Books also are messages from the past, or can be? Like the collective unconscious made real etc. kind of interesting in terms of evolutionary information that is passed on outside the genome. Also interestingly related, for me, to when I learned about hoe scientists had recreated recordings on wax cylinders that couldn't be played, but they just converted to the topography of the groove in the wax to digital and then converted that into sound waves and voila! the recording is able to be heard! So that's kind of like what books entail, but easier to decode but at the same time there is the possibility of decoding all this other stuff? Like maybe the past, the present is making an impression physically on the world around us an we could decode that? Like the walls of Ellis Island in Brother from Another Planet?
Regardless, reading isn't one thing. It's many types of things. Some read fast, some slow. Reading is a habit and also a barrier to the spoken word. Did you ever notice yourself re reading the same part of a book just to make sure you got it right? This is versus scanning whole sections and jumping ahead and then maybe going back? I mean a narrative kind of suggests an order in the text but there is no reason you have to be constrained by that? What about those naughty naughty folk who skip to the end of the book to see how it turns out, just because they can't stand the suspense? I reviewed a book for Library Journal a year or so ago that had a least two different sequences that the chapters could be read in that created different affects from the narrative. Seriously, in the past I would have hated that but it was kind of oddly freeing. The book is called Crossings by Alex Landrigan https://www.libraryjournal.com/review/crossings