This is a guest post from m.d. flores. Deep in the heart of the beautiful Austin Texas, Matt works as an associate editor for a local literary magazine and proudly slings books as independent bookseller. Much of his work can be found underneath his bed in crumpled up pages torn out of notebooks. Follow him on twitter at @mdavidflores and chat with him about your favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips.
So, let me just start off by saying that I’m just a naturally slow reader – like really slow. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I promise I do – but I’m not pounding through Swann’s Way on the beach during a long holiday weekend anytime soon. To make things worse, I’m also ridiculously easily distracted (did ya’ll see Kendrick perform on… wait, nevermind). In fact, given the opportunity, I’ll probably check Instagram a least half dozen times before I’m finished writing this.
Then comes New Year’s Eve, and I’m doing my usual binge watching of Bob’s Burgers and trying my hardest to stay awake past midnight, and all of a sudden I start thinking to myself: “Self, we really should read more.” Recently I had started noticing I was being book-lapped by some friends. What is book-lapping you may ask? Well, dear consistently steady reader, it goes something like this:
Friend: I just finished reading Helen Oyeyemi’s new book! It’s soooo good. Have you read it yet?
Me: Yeah! Mr. Fox? Well, actually I just started it… but I’ve been enjoying it so far.
Friend: No… I mean her new book. Mr. Fox came out, like, a decade ago.
Me: Oh… Yeah, I haven’t read that one yet.
*awkward pauses all around*
This year things were going to be different. This year I was going to have six-pack abs/read a book a week! Armed with a shiny new library card and a renewed tenacity (read: declining social life) I was ready to read my proverbial socks off! First up was Gutshot by Amelia Gray, a modestly sized collection of short stories. Perfect way to begin. Perfect way to celebrate the new year, a collection with plenty of viscera and bodily functions to go around. I devoured the stories. No problems so far. “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover” was just delightful, and I gleefully read bits aloud to confused and concerned friends. Yes! Going well.
Next on the list: The Story Of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. Now we were really getting the ball moving. Odd narrative, fiction-in-translation, subtle critiques of modern art and philosophy? Yes please! This checked all the boxes of the hipster, literary-nerd persona I was trying to cultivate. However, it did make me wonder when was the last time I went to dentist, a thought a book hasn’t provoked since Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour which I must have read last year. Both times I couldn’t remember when the last time was, and now my jaw feels a little sore, and I’m taking a quick break to read Yelp! reviews of dentists in the Austin area.
Right back into the action, Week 3, here we go! Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Ha-ha, friend, ha-ha. Now we are on a level playing field. No more book-lapping. Come next week and we’ll be having in depth discussions of mirrors in fiction, and the value of retelling fairytales and… and… But wait, what is this? My roommate has never seen Dear Reader, Wizard People! Well, that is a tragedy in action! Surely, it couldn’t hurt too much to let go of the reading schedule for one night, one single night, to contribute to the spiritual well-being of my roommate. This was a social necessity. Sacrifices needed to be made. But now I was a book behind. But it’s just one week, no worries, I so naively thought, just need to read a bit extra. Oh, dear reader, how quickly failure is able to creep up behind us.
Was this the the first loose stitch in my downfall? Or could it be Super Bowl weekend a little later. Certainly, the week (well now about two weeks) of SXSW didn’t help – the event that even brought President Obama to town in the midst of searching for the next Supreme Court Justice. I could easily find a dozen excuses: Harry Potter, President Obama, Cam Newton’s infectious smile. Yet, these things are part of everyday life now. What I am beginning to realize is the cause is a little closer to home, a little more personal. Specifically, I think I have a consumption of media problem. Books, long form articles, most things longer than 140 characters, are just so difficult to digest when in 20 seconds I could get photo evidence of what my friends are doing (eating) all over the world. The moment my mind begins to wander while reading and I start checking my phone. It’s not even a conscious decision anymore. I drink it all up like I did with Capri-Sun’s when I was a kid: one big gulp. And while being connected to the world is something I would never disparage, the instant gratification and the immediate input of information has withered away my attention span. So, with the coming of Spring I find myself making a new New Year’s Resolution – to put the phone away. Emails can wait, Facebook is not going anywhere, that cute gif of the sloth will still be there. But for the rest of the year, at least an hour a day, I’m hiding the phone and simply learning to love the book in front of me again. If this doesn’t work, I’m joining a monastery.