I Read a Book!

June 22, 2010 at 10:57 am (By Amba)

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.

Bonus:  cats like it much better when you read a book.


  1. PatHMV said,

    Speaking of needing to read certain books… Several years ago, I bought a book on procrastination, and how to overcome it. It was rather unsettling to read, as it seemed to have a lock on my exact mental processes involved in procrastination. It was, frankly, so uncomfortable that I said it aside for a bit, just splayed open on the last page I was reading, tucked on top of a shelf of books.

    Several months later, I picked up the book again. I turned to the next page from where I had stopped. The first words on the page were: “It has now probably been several months since the last time you looked at this book…”

    I’m sorry to say, I put it right back down again. Just too creepily accurate!

  2. amba12 said,

    LOL! Reminds me of the supplement called Vital Memory that (at a low point of stress and menopause over a decade ago) I bought and then kept forgetting to take!

    (I actually did eventually manage to start taking it, thought it helped, and still do.)

    By the way, part of Acedia & Me is about Norris’s marriage; her husband, David Dwyer, a poet and amateur mathematician, was plagued by procrastination as well as depression, yet still managed to accomplish quite a lot in a relatively short life (he died at 57).

    More on procrastination here. Persevere through the preachy quotes in the post to get to the subversive one. If you’ve been reading me for five (!) years (I’ve been blogging for almost six), you may have seen this.

  3. Maxwell James said,

    One of the great pleasures of my life in the last several years has been a resurgence of interest in reading books – especially fiction, but also some nonfiction & even a bit of poetry now and then. That after several years of about one or two books a year, if that. It’s mostly my wife’s influence – she takes out about 15 books from the library every month, and reads pretty much all of them.

    On the other hand I watch far fewer movies, and play far fewer video games than I used to. Not a bad tradeoff, all told.

  4. amba12 said,

    Most movies are sore disappointments, and feel like a waste of time. With notable exceptions, of course.

    I’ve been thinking about watching The Book of Eli; anyone seen it who can give a thumbs up, down, or sideways?

  5. wj said,

    I certainly can relate to your experience getting caught up in a book. My family has long since learned that, if I’m reading, they may get vague mumbles of acknowledgment . . . but if they really want to get my attention it will probably be necessary to physically move the book in my hands. That works! Irritating as all get out, but it does work. Not much else, short of fire or flood, seems to work reliably.

  6. Icepick said,

    That cat in picture five is getting ready to do something … indelicate.

  7. A said,

    Ha ha ha—I have The War of Art buried under a heap of other books, never got around to finishing it. Thank you for that reminder of Hillman’s takes on procrastination.
    And I was surprised that your definition of acedia didn’t include a kind of depression or despair, spiritual or otherwise, which is part of what I felt was explored in Acedia and Me.

    On reading books in general, I find I’m very grateful lately to be swept into the straight-through, cover-to-cover kind of reading no matter what the genre. It’s such a pleasure and relief to be transported that way which, I agree, doesn’t happen when reading online communications no matter how relevant or time gobbling or randomly fascinating they may be. I don’t have a Kindle or iPad but suspect that for me part of communing with a book, any book, is in fact the paper and turning the pages. Alas.

  8. amba12 said,

    Norris was so anxious to distinguish acedia from depression that I hesitated to equate them. Acedia’s root meaning is “not caring,” and it seems to be characterized by restlessness and irritability, or lethargy, more than by pain or sadness. Depression can certainly manifest that way. She never really resolved the problem of whether they were the same thing. Acedia seems more something that Buddhists could readily understand — the raging dissatisfaction of the mind and its disgust with all it cannot possess.

  9. A said,

    I haven’t had cats for many years now, but I certainly remember how they like it when you read a book. I think dogs like it better when you write!

  10. El Pollo Real said,

    Amba: I just now noticed that you were going to about the v. Moltkes. I read her (shorter) memoire which I wrote about here: here. I still haven’t gotten through Letters To Freya though-just selected parts. I should do though, especially if you’re going to read it. We could compare impressions.

    H. von Moltke was certainly interesting. I first learned about him years ago in a book I bought in Berlin called Topografie des Terrors about the GESTAPO building ruins and which profiled many of its famous prisoners. Then when I watched Sophie Scholl (thank you Ruth Anne) I was reminded of him. That’s what got us talking that night on Twitter.

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