Thursday, January 20, 2005

My Reading Addiction

The professor for one of my lit classes back in my college days had this saying that i liked, though i'm sure he got it from somebody else. It went something like this: "Show me somebody who reads and i'll show you somebody who's depressed; show me somebody who writes and i'll show you somebody who's miserable". By the transitive property of sweeping generalizations, it follows that somebody who writes about what they're reading must be freakin' suicidal.

Anyway, i've always been a fairly avid reader, at least by the standards of our post-literate culture. I don't really read for edification or education so much as just to experience things, however vicariously, that i probably won't experience otherwise. I also think reading has for me some of the same qualities as meditation. Under normal circumstances my brain multitasks pathologically. I think i have what Rands calls Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder (NADD), which is useful for people in my profession but which generates stress. When i read i'm able (sometimes) to focus on the text, maybe because the acts of parsing, interpreting, imagining, inferring that are required to read critically occupy most of the brain. Writing software and other intellectually absorbing activities often have a similar effect for me, but reading is the only one of these that relaxes me.

Lately though i've been combining my reading habit with my NADD. I used to be fairly strict about reading sequentially, one book at a time, but recently i've started reading multiple books. Not literally concurrently, but time-sliced. This began a couple of years ago when i got the idea of leaving a book in my car so that i'd have something to read while waiting for someone or while having lunch alone. That seemed fairly reasonable, and i'd usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book going so there'd be a clear distinction. But i couldn't leave well enough alone. At present, i'm in the middle of four different books. One is Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, which a friend loaned me. Another is Pain: The Science of Suffering by Patrick Wall. The third is Blink by Malcom Gladwell, and the fourth is The Day of the Bees by Thomas Sanchez. That's if you don't count Bob Roll's Bobke II, which i have in the bathroom along with Apollodorus's Library.

This might sound like pseudo-intellectual bragging. Oooh, look at all of the clever books that i'm reading. But really, i'm not at all proud of this. I don't have an orderly process for managing the books, or a method for keeping them mentally compartmentalized. The books occupy various physical places that shift a bit, though they tend to remain separated: the office, the car, my family room, my nightstand. I don't attempt to read a set amount or at a specific time. I just slip into them when it's convenient. Sure, it's not exactly like mainlining heroin, but i think it's perilously close to crossing the line between purposeful and compulsive behavior.

I'm tempted to attribute these new reading habits to the Internet. Obviously i've developed a taste for rapid context changing and bursts of monotone information. It's mood altering. I can get my blood pressure up by reading something that pisses me off, and then bring it back down by cruising over to RudePundit. More likely though i'm just undisciplined.

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