Getting closer, almost done

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Today I finished a book.

It really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I work in a bookstore, I own books, and I’m trying to write one. Reading books goes hand in hand with all of those things. But lately it hasn’t been happening. I’ll start a book and then put it down and not care enough to pick it up again. Sometimes I’m not sure which room I left it in and I’m not motivated enough to look around for it. My house isn’t the cleanest in the world, but books don’t actually get lost here. I just didn’t care.

At first I tried to blame being tired. I would go to work, buy books from people at the used book counter and see all these great titles that I wanted to read right away. But eight hours later I just wanted to go home. I didn’t need any of those great books from earlier. Even if I had set one aside to buy I didn’t bother going through with the purchase. There was always tomorrow.

At home I wasn’t reading books I already owned. I was watching TV. Was television to blame? I know I watch a lot of shows, my husband and I are on a Raising Hope kick right now, and obviously I could be reading instead. I will admit watching TV or a movie is easier than reading. Plus you can do it while you eat or wash dishes — not so with a book.

But I was having trouble with the TV, too. I never finished Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Rear Window. I barely made it through Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and I didn’t understand some parts because I wasn’t paying attention. How was I supposed to keep my eyes open during Jeffrey Eugenides’ Marriage Plot?

When I tried to watch the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I finally noticed a problem. I had developed a habit of multitasking during movies. And not just the dinner eating and dish washing I mentioned before. I was checking my email on my laptop and trying to play games on my phone. I never noticed how much it pulled me away from a movie or conversation. But if you don’t look at the TV during a foreign film then you really lose your place. Sure, my husband is trying to learn Swedish, but his rudimentary skills have in no way prepared me for understanding this film without reading the subtitles. I tried watching without distraction and found myself a little uncomfortable. There is something wrong with how much my fingers itched to be typing or texting.

When my husband visited his sister he mentioned a cute story about her eldest son Ryan, almost 8 years old. At dinner one night he was obviously reading under the table. After a few minutes he raised the book up and declared, “Three books in one day!” Yes, they are chapter books and yes, he has less responsibility than I do. But if a kid can read three books in one day, what’s wrong with me? When I was his age I was doing the same thing. I loved the Hardy Boys and Roald Dahl. My parents would kick me out into the yard to get some sun and I would just take the book with me. Now I still don’t get a lot of sun but it’s because I’m inside watching TV until I get bored halfway though a show and start goofing around online. Then I take a nap because looking at funny pictures on the Internet takes a lot out of a person.

So I stopped using my phone during lunch at work. Instead I’ve been reading a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories written by a different mystery authors, Murder in Baker Street. Short story collections are the adult equivalent of chapter books. You feel accomplished after only a few pages because you’ve finished an entire story. It’s okay if you set the book down for a while because you won’t be lost when you pick it up later. You can even read other collections of short stories at the same time and not get characters confused.

And today I finished a book — The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind. I had started his first book, Perfume, a few months ago and now it’s collecting dust on the floor next to my bed, the bookmark somewhere around page 20. When The Pigeon came into the used books Saturday at work I knew it was perfect. I had liked what I read of Perfume so I knew I would like the writing style. It was short, 115 pages, and had a simple plot. I’ll have to work my way back up to Tom Clancy-like books with 80 characters and enough plot twists to make you feel like you should be taking notes, but I’ll get there.

In the meantime I will actively put my phone down and close my laptop. The TV won’t be on already when I get home and we will eat dinner at the table. If I’m hiding a book under my side my husband will just have to understand.

Kelly Hannon works in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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