How I read

Posted on August 27, 2015


Or maybe this essay should be titled how I don’t. At least not the way I used to, eyes glued to the page. What a funny thing to say. It’s funnier to think of it literally, as though if I nodded off, I’d wake up with a book for a face. Anyway, that’s how we read once, with gluey concentration. Reading was so sensory back then. For the eyes, the white surface, the black text, sometimes the colour from pictures. For the ears, the rustle of paper, if it was thick paper, or else the silky swish as you turned the page. For the nose, the smell of gum, binding – brand new books are the bibliophile’s answer to brand new babies, with their scent of talcum powder and wonder. There was even something for the mouth, though I was not one of those who licked a finger before turning a page. I had other ways of tasting the words.

Today, I touch the words. I touch them through devices I can slip into my jeans. I am in communion with the author, Adam’s index finger reaching out to God’s. The rustle of pages is gone, there’s only His silence. There’s nothing that tells the ear I am done with this page, I am moving to the next. I no longer have to raise my neck to get from the bottom of this page to the top of the next. The head remains bowed, supplication. Or else, in bed, I gaze at the brightly lit words like I’d gaze at stars. Words are stars, if you think about it – great clusters, great constellations of letters swimming around in the inky void inside your device. A universe of words. Galaxies of words.

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I want them all. This was not me, earlier. Books are finite things, of finite length and width and height, made from finite forests. Even if you entered the largest library, and there are some really large ones, there’s still four walls, a roof, a sense of containment. There was the possibility one could wade through it all, with diligence and, yes, glue. I don’t think that anymore. I know I’ll never read it all, so I skim. That’s a word from a more mundane universe, that of dairy farms – the fat has been removed from reading. I am diet-reading these days, maybe that’s why the feeling of fullness is no longer there. I’m constantly hungry – though, I suppose, fit. My eyes, at least, should be the fittest on the planet, they race through miles and miles and miles of prose. Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the days I had fat eyes, lazy eyes that bulged, wouldn’t budge from a sentence or a paragraph until well and truly ready.

I race through feed reads, through newspaper headlines, through stacks of prose that appear miraculously as I bring my index finger down, aware that there’s a bookrack behind me filled with unread books looking accusingly at the back of my head. But what can one do? I was an earthbound armchair reader – not that we had an armchair, but it feels nice saying that instead of saying I used to read in an easy chair made of white paint and peeling cane. Today, I’m a cosmic voyager. I’m George Clooney in Gravity, untethered and spiralling into infinities that fit into my palm..

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