That’s news. I can’t tell you what was the last one I read, or when. The last one I vividly remember reading was this one — a strangely gripping and grieving tale of species extinction (discussed in the second half of this column). (Icepick, you’d love/hate this book — it’s by a Florida native and is about the destruction of Florida, summed up in the extinction of one bird.) That was in . . . omigod. November 2008. I’ve read a book since then. Haven’t I? [silence]
Anyway, I’ve been feeling the need to dive into a lake of words, if not the ocean, after splashing in Twitter’s backyard inflatable pool too long. Also, unpacking my books, and seeing all the ones I’ve never read but want to, has reawakened book-greed.
The book I read was Acedia & Me, by Kathleen Norris. (Thumbnail review: it’s disorganized and has a few dry, preachy stretches, but there are many startling insights in it.) It was a book I needed to read just now because acedia (a combination of sloth, indifference, and cynicism once regarded as the deadliest of sins) was a self-inflicted malady I was succumbing to. Maybe that’s the secret to reading a whole book: you have to need it.
But I think I also just needed to read a book. Maybe a lot more than just one. Maybe my attention was caught by this statement in Roger Ebert’s blog post about Twitter:
I’ve made a change recently. After writing my blog, “The quest for frisson” and reading two recent articles about internet addiction, I have looked hard at my own behavior. For some days now I have physically left the room with the computer in it, and settled down somewhere to read. All the old joy came back, and I realized the internet was stealing the reading of books away from me. Reading is calming, absorbing, and refreshing for the mind after hectic surfing. [...] I like the internet, but I don’t want to become its love slave.
The Internet was coming to feel like a shallow puddle in which I was fretfully seeking what can only be found in the depths. Next I’m going to dive into two books I had meant to read and discuss with @chickelit months ago: memoirs of the German resistance to Hitler by Helmuth von Moltke and his wife Freya.
Of course, an added factor besides frenzied Internet fragmentation — frequent interruption by the requirements of caregiving — makes it difficult for me to read a book (and easy to hop in and out of the tweetstream or blogiverse). Since childhood I have been notorious for getting lost in a book to the neglect and active exclusion of everything else. I’d bring my book to the dinner table and would have to be physically pried apart from it. The absorption a good book invites can be a torment when you keep getting torn away. But even the tenacity of longing for and preoccupation with a book may help to “knit up the ravell’d sleave” of a mind shredded by distractions.