Becalmed in a Non-Reading Swamp

Kim Ukura

Staff Writer

Kim Ukura is a book lover, recovering journalist, library advocate, cat mom, and lover of a good gin cocktail. In addition to co-hosting Book Riot’s nonfiction podcast, For Real, and co-editing Book Riot’s nonfiction newsletter, True Story, Kim spends her days working in communications at a county library system in the Twin Cities area. Kim has a BA in English and journalism from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not getting to bed before 10 p.m., Kim loves to read nonfiction, do needlework projects, drink tea, and watch the Great British Baking Show. Instagram: @kimthedork Twitter: @kimthedork

“A few months ago, I stopped reading books.”

That line — shocking to anyone who loves to read — is the opening to Jonathan Gourlay’s essay “In the Land of the Non-Reader,” published in The Bygone Bureau: A Journal of Modern Thought.

In his sad tale, Gourlay tells of pulling up the Netflix app on his iPhone to watch Star Trek: Voyager before bed instead of grabbing a book. Instead of pulling out a book during those random moments of time — “a train ride, a late-night break, and an office wait” — Gourlay falls into “a steady diet of Netlix, Hulu, Skyrim, and the NFL.”

After weeks of excuses (No time! Too busy! Television! Video games!) Gourlay comes to the realization that after a lifelong addiction to books, he has entered “the swamp of the non-reader” (cue “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” right here…).

When I came across Gourlay’s essay earlier this week, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing my own sad reading slump articulated in vivid detail. Swap out In Plain Sight for Star Trek: Voyager and Pinterest for Hulu and he’d have me nailed. It’s really not a pretty sight.

I’m not as far into the abyss as Gourlay. I’ve been reading the occasional essay, and I still make the effort to carry a book around with me wherever I go, but when I have the choice between reading and… well, anything else… I’ve been choosing the other thing.

What is my life like in the swamp of the non-reader? Tired.

Reading a book, even for just a half hour, used to make me feel rejuvenated. In the swamp of the non-reader, I feel like I’m constantly slogging along, my brain and body weighed down as I make my way through the marsh.

I keep thinking that if I just get some more sleep, maybe eat a little better, maybe take a day off from work, I’ll suddenly emerge triumphant from the haze, book in hand, and dive back into my life as a reader. But really, reading is not the activity that comes after the rest of my life is in order. It’s the thing that has to come first, the brain and spirit energizer that is going to help make the rest of those things possible.

What Gourlay articulates in his essay better than I will ever be able to explain is the understanding that for those of us who love books, reading is a force of life. It’s the activity that becomes a source of both inspiration and comfort during all times. Losing that force, for whatever reason, is disorienting. But the only way out of the swamp is to start reading again, to embrace the challenge and joy that a good book can bring, no matter how hard that can seem.

If you’ve ever had a reading slump or found yourself drifting into that place where reading falls to the back burner for a day or two, go check out Gourlay’s essay as a reminder of what life can be like in the swamp of the non-reader.

Have you ever entered Gourlay’s swamp of the non-reader? How did you find your way out?

Photo Credit: RickyNJ via Flickr