Lately I’ve spread myself a bit thin on the reading front. I’ve been reading several things at once: books on Lewis and Clark, experimental cabins on ponds, species seekers, and war at the same time as books about wizards, bloodthirsty cowboys, mythological Olympians, and adiposity. Add to that various magazines and anthologies, story collections from Poe and Bradbury, and a dose of screw-turning ghost stories, and you’ve got me feeling a bit of literary schizophrenia. The problem is, I’m a one-book-at-a-time guy, despite all appearances.

I can’t help but wonder what this is doing to my ability to retain essential elements of what I’m reading. I have no problem alternating between different mediums—narrative books, magazines, books of poetry. Alternating between narratives leaves me disoriented. Generally, when I sit down with any given book that has a running narrative, I can immerse myself in that world enough to block out other narratives intruding on my mind from other pages. But I have noticed a difference in how I experience those books. When I read one story at a time, no other extended narratives competing for attention, I have the whole of my literary mind engaged with that story. I’m more involved with the characters, themes, excitement. I get into it. Lately, though, my literary mind is distracted.

When I was reading about Lewis and Clark’s epic expedition, then switching to a Percy Jackson book someone gave me, only to turn pages in what I heard was Cormac McCarthy’s best damn book, I couldn’t appreciate any of it. Often I couldn’t even decide which book to read at any given moment, and I’d waste time figuring out what kind of mood I was in. The best Cormac McCarthy book? Didn’t particularly care for it. Partly, I think that was due to timing. Some books you aren’t ready for; they need a distinct mood. But more importantly, they need your undivided attention. To be honest, I didn’t know what the hell was going on because I didn’t give it respectful consideration. I found myself reading just to finish it, appreciating well written sentences but feeling zero attachment to story or character. And I thought that was a damn shame.

So I’m going back to my old ways. Why the change to a divided self in the first place? Partly a necessity of my work at a magazine, maybe a more fractured mood from upheavals and life changes, partly a sense that time is short and reading lists long. In any case, I’m done with it.

These books deserve my attention, or I’ve missed the point of reading. So excuse me while I go lose myself in a young wizard’s struggle against the darkness. The snow leopards will have to wait.

Advertisements