I need to start with an important clarification. I have read a ton in the past two years. Not only is it a requirement of my job as a research scientist, it is also a critical part of my web-life as a (fake) writer. I would venture to say I have read as much or more in the past two years than at any time in my life. All that said I have not sought out or picked up a book intending to read it from start to finish in a very long time. I had not connected the dots until very recently, but I only just realized that I have not read a book since the death of my beloved wife Victoria almost two years ago now. Clearly those things must be related as I was a voracious reader from when I first learned how until that time. In fact, in the two to three years just prior to her death, I was reading books at a pace faster then at any time in my life previous to that. Mostly I was inhaling non fiction, textbooks and compilations of original writings in ancient and modern philosophy with a specific focus on analytic philosophy and logic, and I was also reading all manner of science and technology books in every subject area from quantum physics to neurobiology. I was not reading lot of fiction during that time, mostly because there was just so much other non-fiction stuff I was planning to tackle. However, I was not averse to a good non fiction read every now and again, and plowed through a fare share of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror books (my favorite genres) during that time as well. Since her death, I have not read a single one. I have not opened a book or even thought about looking to purchase or borrow one to read for pleasure. Of course I need to look at textbooks from time to time as reference material for my job, and though I do always find in fascinating and interesting, I would not exactly consider it “reading for pleasure.”
My intent in this post is not to try and tease out the psychology of why I stopped reading books (thought that would no doubt also make an interesting read and I am certain many grief councilors would encourage me to “explore the source of my aversion” as an exercise in self help) but rather to focus on the impact it has had on me as a person and a writer. I suppose the first thing I would say is that the impact, at least the felt impact for myself personally, has been quite small, smaller than I would have guessed if someone had posed to me the situation as a hypothetical. From a writing perspective I have been more productive in the past two years than ever in my life prior, but I also primarily have this web-site to thank for that, and only found it around that long ago. I also believe the quality of my writing has improved markedly over these past two years. Would it have gotten better any faster had I been reading books? Maybe, but probably not, or the effect would have been marginal at best. If anything it might have restricted me somewhat in terms of topic areas as no doubt I would mostly be writing about what I was reading, and as I mentioned, that was mostly focused on philosophy and science. The world might never have known the hilarious genius that is belts with holes are dead or experienced the joy of multiple posts featuring Moroccan argan oil. Looked at from that perspective I should have probably kept reading books, but nevertheless not reading books did seemingly allow me to expand my repertoire of genre writing way outside my previous comfort zones.
On the more personal side I think not reading books has been a wash or a net gain. Certainly I have had a lot more “free” time on my hands to do other things. I have taken up climbing (bouldering) and have gotten quite good, have been hiking and camping a heck of a lot more, and have been traveling and getting out of the “house” much more in general then I used to. This includes the infamous trip to Utah where the coyote gulch near death experience happened with my friend Kat. Maybe none of that happens if I am still reading books like I was. I can’t believe I am saying this but I think not reading any books these past two years was one of the best (non conscious) decisions I ever made. Certainly I do not recommend it for everyone or even for most. In my view reading books is one of the healthiest activities a human being can partake in but for me, at that time in my life, it seems stopping was the right call. Kat drug me to a library a couple of weeks back and my interest was piqued by a few things so I am fairly certain the books are coming back soon, but I highly doubt my reading volume will ever return to previous levels, and that’s OK by me. There is more to life than books and reading them can never substitute for experiencing it for yourself.