So this is something I haven’t told anyone before, even if some people knew a little about it. I studied Latin American Literature, and the last nine or so years I wasn’t able to read books. I did read the occasional novel (struggled a lot to do it) and I never stopped buying books, but I just didn’t read. I’m not exactly sure what happened.
When I first noticed this I got really really worried. I remember that a friend who knew one of my favorite authors (Juan Villoro) emailed him asking for advice. He said I was someone who used to devour all types of literature and he wanted to know if he (Villoro) had any suggestions on some books that would make me read again. Juan Villoro actually replied that he suggested “fun and intoxicating books,” and gave a list:
– La vida exagerada de Martín Romaña, by Alfredo Bryce Echenique
– Dos crímenes, by Jorge Ibargüengoitia
– La ternura del dragón or Carreteras secundarias, by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón
– París no se acaba nunca, by Enrique Vila-Matas
I bought them all, I actually had read in school Dos crímenes (and loved it, by the way, Ibargüengoitia is one of my favorite authors), but they did nothing. After a few months (years?) of them sitting in my bedside table, I just added them to my neverending (and nevershrinking) TBR. Looking back I’m not even sure what happened, or how it happened. It’s not that I didn’t open a book, but it was so hard to keep reading, I took so so long to finish a chapter, or even a page. I was so easily distracted (I’ll talk more about this in a bit).
I was worried and I felt terrible. Alone and incapable. For a reason I didn’t understand something that I loved and that was paramount in my life (jeez, I studied Literature) just disappeared. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t reading (of course, since I started reading at 5) and reading actually saved me so many times throughout my life, that this new reality felt sad and desolate.
After some years it started getting easier to accept. I realized that it wasn’t that I couldn’t read. I read all the time! Online, just not books. I never stopped buying books, but more than fiction I bought non-fiction. Books that I could read just a passage that I needed and then leave them. Food-trucking, translation, working from home, consulting… and of course, some literature from time to time.
And then something happened last year. I’m sure it wasn’t just for me, but globally, 2017 was a hard year. If 2016 was morbid, 2017 presented many more challenges from the get go. I started watching BBC’s Sherlock and suddenly felt the urge to read the canon. I actually had never read it in English, I found Sherlock Holmes when I was very young and I read it in Spanish (I didn’t know a thing about translation when I was 9, but I still believe it was a good one). So I looked for a cheap but well rated edition (in Mexico we have a saying “bueno, bonito y barato”, “good, pretty, and cheap”) on Amazon and ordered it. I started reading and couldn’t stop. My husband gifted me one of those “Big ideas simply explained” books about Sherlock Holmes, and as soon as I read a novel or a short story I complemented it with the chapter on that book. I didn’t realize I was *reading* at first, but then I started to get anxious. What would happen after I finished Conan Doyle? Would I go back to my book drought? So I looked online, of course.
There were lots of articles saying to take a book everywhere (I do that now) because there’s always time to read. But I found one that made me really curious. This Book Riot article linked to the Read Harder challenge 2017 and the categories were amazing. I decided to give it a shot, I mean it was May already, so that meant I had to read a little more than two books a month, but it definitely seemed achievable. It wasn’t like my university days, of course, but taking two weeks to read a book sounded okay with how much I was reading by then.
By December 31st I had read +40 books! And I covered all the Read Harder prompts! I know it’s not much, especially seeing the Rioters’ statistics, but I do feel proud. After reading The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr (for my non-fiction about technology) I feel that’s exactly what happened to my brain. The Internet changed the way I think and my books went away. I’m so glad I eventually found a way out.
I know that it started as “going back to basics” (classics, in this case, my own, of course), but book challenges and book clubs (I follow the Slate Audio Book Club, too) turned my life back to the right (and beautiful, and amazing, and challenging, and wondrous, and fulfilling) path.
On 2018 I’ll be doing the Read Harder Challenge again, obviously, and with the Slate Audio Book Club and a book club of a radio show in Mexico, I think I’ll be able to achieve my goal of 60 books.
I’ll be writing about my journey. I hope that this way I can make myself a little more accountable.
Happy New Year to anyone who might be reading.