A few weeks ago I decided that it was finally time to read the novel Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This decision came on the back of hearing yet another sterling recommendation for the book (literati members often like to show off their sophistication by making such recommendations). Unable to resist turning my nose up at others via superior knowledge of the American literary cannon, I was finally convinced that it was time to read it.
So there I was … a freshly brewed pot of black coffee and an entire weekend blocked off for “personal reading time” at the tail end of another summer in Beijing. I lay on the couch and clutched my Kindle, excited to enter the world of Walden Pond in 19th century Massachusetts.
However, as I read, I found myself constantly looking up to check my phone. Dismayed and somewhat ashamed that I wasn’t “getting lost in Walden”, I pushed on and grudgingly plowed my way through the first half of the book.
I am somewhat ashamed to say that I was never able to finish reading Walden. I just couldn’t bring myself to concentrate on it. I found his prose too long-winded and Thoreau himself to apt to make references to Greek mythology. Furthermore, and perhaps slightly more of a personal difference, i found his arguments slightly naive.
Whatever the case, I hold no qualms with Thoreau. My failed attempt to read Walden was illuminating. It provided clear evidence that my ability to read long pieces that I did not enjoy, (a prize of my undergraduate education), had been significantly damaged in my post-graduation years (approximately four years in total).
Today I work as an editor at an IT company. I have held this position for a little bit more than a year.
As a consequence of this position I am on the computer with an internet connection throughout most of my day. This has drastically altered the way that I read and my ability to concentrate. I now find it much harder to focus on one thing for a long period of time. I also enjoy reading shorter texts.
Although I was unable to finish Walden, I devoured The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. A Pulitzer finalist in 2011 for General Nonfiction, Carr presents research and a well-crafted analysis of why I was, and still am, having a hard time reading these types of books (aside from, of course, my basic reservations).
(trying out Amazon’s affiliate link service)