In recent months I've been teaching myself to read - or perhaps, re-teaching, since I used to know but forgot. By reading I don't mean the technical ability to recognize letters and the sounds they represent, and thereby to construct conversations, ideas, or whatever nonsense people write. That ability I never lost. The one I did, however, was the ability to take a book and sit and read it, page after page, perhaps even hour after hour. That art I lost sometime during the past decade or two, as I put all my reading abilities into reading stuff on glass screens, and then reading shorter stuff on smaller glass screens, and then skimming over stuff on other glass screens.
Blogs, say. Or Tweets. At least I never started using Facebook.
So it hasn't been easy, re-learning what I used to know. Back in the Old Times I used to read all the time, everywhere. I'd take two books onto an airplane, and six or eight of them to the first week of reserve duty. I would stand in lines in official ministries, reading. Buses? Reading. banks? Reading. I often read three or four books simultaneously. And then I lost the ability, and for a while didn't even notice. Then I did notice but brushed it aside. Until eventually I realized that reading from glass screens - unless perhaps it be Kindle type screens which I never tried - was a form of making oneself dumb. True, just about everyone else was doing the same, but that didn't mean I wasn't getting dumber, even if it was a communal project.
So I tried to reverse the tide. It wasn't easy. For a while it was a physical effort. But eventually the effort began paying dividends, as efforts often do. Recently it has even been getting easier, and of course, worthier.
So here's a quick list of some books I've read recently:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I don't read enough literature to do literary criticism, but this book about a girl in Nazi Germany wasn't what I'd expected. It was, however, a fine read, and I sort of didn't put it down until I'd finished it.
Paul Preston's The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge (Revised and Expanded Edition) was recommended to me by my son who is currently working in Spain for an international technology company. I hadn't actually ever read a systematic description of the Spanish Civil War, and this book taught me that it had been much worse than I had been led to think ("the pilot project of WW2), and Franco was considerably more ghastly than I'd thought, in spite of the fact that during WW2 he enabled safe haven to many of the Jews who managed to cross over from France.
Bill Bryson actually convinced me that my secret aspiration to walk the Appalachian Trail from end to end is probably not worth the considerable effort (compounded by the fact that I live more than 6,000 miles away). Though I do hope to do additional sections of it to the few I've already done. Another really fun book: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Then I read Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists: Or, The Passion of Joschka Fischer, and its Aftermath. This is the third or fourth of Berman's books I've read. His shtick is that he's an old 68er who has grown up, but is still attached to the idealism that fuelled his young political passions. It's an interesting and worthy perspective, especially the grown up parts of it, though I admit that I weary, slowly, of his built-in and underlying assumption that one needs those roots in the Left to be a compassionate person.
And then I read Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West - but that's a book which deserves its own post. Someday.