I have a confession to make, and it’s a hell of a thing to admit to in my first post to a classy writing website like this. I mean, I feel like the guy in an Obama shirt at the Klan rally, but I really want to start off on an honest footing here at TNB.
I’m not a reader.
I mean, I can read. And I read a lot of stuff. It’s just that the vast bulk of it is straight off the screen of my laptop, and the vast bulk of that is complete, god-awful garbage. The sad fact is that I’m simply not lit-savvy. My lack of knowledge about authors, titles, genres and whatever else comprises novels is reprehensible. I’ve read maybe three books in the past year, and one of them was Harry the Dirty Dog*.
Not only does this massive character flaw render me mute when someone wants to talk about favourite authors – my emergency go-to’s are William Gibson and Will Self – but it has become an increasing social handicap as several of my friends start to write books (something which I think is totally inconsiderate of them). Firstly, because nothing says ‘I’ve done something with my life and you haven’t’ like writing a novel, and worse, one is expected to read your friend’s book. Not to do so is considered lazy and spiteful. Conversations at parties inevitably lead back to The Book, and I can only fall silent and drink harder. (The links between my alcoholism and failure to read are well established and mutually supportive.)
It wasn’t always this way. As a child, my appetite for books was insatiable. I was one of those kids who literally read the dictionary for fun, or, if in the mood for something lighter, the street directory or the back of a cereal box. I would read the stories of E. Nesbit and Tolkien while walking to and from school, only glancing up at the inevitable sound of screeching tires and blaring horns.
So, what happened to me? It’s simple, really. My brain is a lumpy mush. I have cooked it over the low flame of internet porn and beer for a god damned decade and a half, and let me tell you, man, it’s done. I can barely summon the will to open a book, let alone read (or, god forbid, write) one.
It’s a short attention span problem. Starting a book feels like starting a relationship, and I’m just not ready to commit. Sure, I’ll fool around a little. I’ll stroke your cover, peruse your liner notes. I sure like being seen with you. But then, just when everything’s going great, you start talking about settling down and establishing characters, and maybe looking at getting a little sub-plot together. And that’s when I start sweating, and looking around the room for the moving lights and noise of my favourite drug.
I’ve come down to my local library today, hoping that being in a place of knowledge might inspire me. The internet was supposed to be the ultimate hub of wisdom, but when I try and think of anything genuinely enriching I’ve gained from my time with it, my mush-brain doesn’t get far. It’s just a desert of tired memes, illiterate rage and sad lechery. There are diamonds here and there, of course, but what good are gems to the man who will never make it back to civilisation?
I’ve lived less than a mile from this library for almost a year, but this is the first time I’ve visited. It’s a nice environment, quiet and welcoming, but it makes me sleepy. There is too much Real Knowledge here for my shrivelled mental palate, and it’s acting like a sedative. Like the junkie I am, I pull out my laptop and check for a wireless connection. Fortunately, there isn’t one. In fact the whole building seems to be a network blackspot, and I can’t even get phone reception.
I am actually offline. I feel a little delirious.
It’s probably the most obvious thing possible to say about a library, but it’s full of books. I can’t tell how many. Way more than fifty. They taunt me from the shelves, knowing that I will never read them. I pluck out a title more or less at random – a yellowing print of Harvest On The Don by Mikhail Sholokhov – and ponder what would happen if I wrote a message inside the cover and came back to check it in a year, two years, five. An eloquent reply? A dick and balls? Or nothing at all? Perhaps this particular book will never be opened again, and will just gather dust until the library is done away with, or books themselves are.
Thoughts, observations, stories – as physical objects. It’s a concept so instinctive for so long that it is only as we see the beginning of its end that it becomes recognisable as the mere phase that it is.
My sleepiness is increasing. I fantasise about building a nest of old, unloved reference books in a secluded corner and letting their outdated contents seep into my head as I slumber. I would awake refreshed, and with charmingly archaic theories on the Savage. As a child I dreamed of being locked in the library over a weekend. Were I to live that dream now I suspect it would involve a lot more random fires, and a lot less looking up diagrams of genitals in human biology texts.
I have spent many hours in the library now. I have written a little, thought a little, ripped a substantial number of CDs. I have not read a book, but neither have I shot the sickly slow intellectual death juice of ‘teh intarwebs’ into my brain for an entire afternoon. Harvest On The Don still lies next to me on the desk. The Communist on the cover stares at me with something like pity, something like pride.
*The classic children’s picture book, and not, as I would prefer you to believe, some kind of post-modernist re-imagining of the Clint Eastwood films.