Reading feels so much more complicated now that I did when I was my kid’s age. I used to have school reading, and I liked it enough to be an English major in college. But I don’t really remember reading a lot after college, during those years of moving around when I didn’t have steady access to a library.
When I got a smartphone, I immediately downloaded apps for audiobooks. I have a clear memory of audiobooks – most from the library, some purchased – making a huge difference in my life when the apps improved. It was like my mind came back online after four years of babies and the isolation that came with being a stay-at-home parent.
But now I worry: the cultural fears about reading, attention span and the mental erosion of my smartphone. Can I still read? What if I can’t? And what are my kids seeing? As they got closer to reading independently, I wanted to make sure they saw me reading, too.
I have started getting more books from the library for myself. I mean, I always got books for myself – but often they were craft or instructional books, something to inspire me or get me excited and prepared for a project. Recently, I’ve also begun getting novels. And I read them. Sometimes.
I have remembered the pleasure of reading before bed. And with all my worry about my ability to focus, it turns out I have to be careful not to end up reading into the night. “Just one more chapter,” until I find myself turning the last page at 1 a.m.
So why do I still worry? Why do I still blame myself when I can’t get into a book? It’s the cultural conversation, isn’t it? Smartphones are making us dumb. We can’t pay attention to anything. I absolutely believe that distraction is a big problem, and many apps are designed to hoard as much of our attention as possible. But also, listening to an audiobook to pass the time while I am driving or cleaning makes me happier. And there are book and narrator combinations so sublime I can’t help but feel I am missing out when I read the book on my own.
My children are in a spot between learning how to read and getting their own phones, and it feels like a meaningful moment. But all my wondering has left me with many questions and no real conclusion.
And so, a moment to simply acknowledge this generational worry, which is more nuanced than the mass hysteria. My goal these days is to read or listen to books that bring me pleasure, and not create a conflict between the ways to enjoy a book.