The answer is complicated. Life happened. Adulthood, responsibility, motherhood, middle age--they have all taken their toll, as has the information age. I do think there is something to the theory that electronic communication has made human beings less able to concentrate for any length of time. We are truly addicted to our machines and the constant barrage of little informational spit wads they shoot our way, and we are so consumed with cleaning up those spit wads off the floor that we can't stop long enough to pick up something more weighty.
I say "we." But I know not everyone has this problem. I have friends that actually still do read, and I envy them. I want to be like them. I want to read again and I am trying to figure out how to make it happen.
Perhaps this is a rationalization, but I think my reading difficulty arises in part from my current season of life. It is known sociologically as the "sandwich" phase. I do think that all other things being equal, middle age is probably the most difficult and challenging period of life. It is the time during which human beings have the greatest number of demands being made on them and the greatest number of people depending on them, all while they are dealing with the shocking realization that all that stuff they always heard about the decay of the body really is true.
So not only do I find reading mentally difficult, but I also find it very hard these days to justify sitting down and reading a book for an hour. There are so many other more productive things I could be accomplishing! And yet I easily justify taking a five minute break to check my email or look at Facebook or read a blog post. Because it's just five minutes, you see. But I'm fooling myself, because those five minutes so easily turn in to ten or fifteen or thirty, and certainly when you string all those five-minute diversions together they easily add up to an hour or more per day.
I think I also sometimes revert to electronic reading because I am so used to being interrupted that I am afraid to commit myself to something that is going to require more than five minutes for it to be meaningful. I can spend five minutes in my email or on Facebook or even a blog and come away feeling like I really did read something (however worthless), whereas to really get something out of a book I need a half hour or more of quiet with it. So rather than be thwarted, I choose not to try.
But here at the age of 47 I am starting to ask myself, with regard to many things from exercise to reading to fun, "If not now, when?" My weak physical condition has convicted me of the need to recommit to an exercise program (with my husband's help I am working on that), and now I am ready to acknowledge that my weakened brain is in dire need of some conditioning. And what better way to exercise it than to reintroduce the best and most enjoyable form of mental calisthenics I know: reading. The trick is making it happen. I have decided that like most things to which I want to give priority in my life, I need to schedule a time for it, preferably in the morning (I wish I could live my whole life in the morning). My plan is to set aside a half hour that will be only for unplugged reading of in-depth material. Food packaging, medication bottles, and mail don't count, nor do magazine surfing or reading aloud to Evan. I'm talking big, thick, book reading--you know, those things with, what are they called? Oh yeah . . . chapters.
This post has gone on too long already, so I will report back later with a little more about my efforts (they have already started) and how they are going. I am interested, though, to hear from anyone who has had a similar experience to mine. If you are someone who used to read but who now doesn't, on what do you blame the change? And if you have managed to rediscover your love for reading, how did you do it?