Opinions, Column

The Resurrection of the Bibliophile

“Are you a bibliophile?” 

She asked the question like it was an insult. 

I was sitting on the chipping blue bench—tucking my obligatory Catholic school plaid skirt under my legs to avoid splinters—with my copy of Harry Potter nestled securely under my arm. 

After letting me sit in awkward silence for a moment too long, my middle school teacher was more than happy to condescendingly explain to me something I’d already known: I was the very definition of a book lover. 

I spent hours tackling Titans with Percy, arching arrows with Katniss, being enchanted by Ella, adventuring through Green Gables with Anne, learning love with the Little Women, and of course, making magic with Harry. I must have read at least four books a week back in middle school, barely reshelving the last one before greedily ripping through the pages of the next. A love like that is supposed to last, right? 

So why, then, am I now struggling to average more than four pages a day? And that’s being generous. Like, really generous.

The struggle is not an uncommon one. Friends and acquaintances who I consider to be as book obsessed as me openly lament the fact that the last book they read was always assigned by a teacher and would generally fall in either the category of “boring fiction” or “more boring nonfiction.” Not to knock the greats—you know, Plato or Shakespeare or Steinbeck, but nothing kills the joy of reading a book more than when it’s a line item on your syllabus.

To top it all off, there is simply not enough time in the day to live your own life, let alone to step inside the life of, say, Michelle Obama or Chris McCandless, however empowering or heartbreaking those lives may be. But where has the time gone in our days? Where did we go wrong? At the risk of sounding like all of our parents when I say this—it’s because we’re on that damn phone all the time.

Today, it’s more Netflix than Neruda. More endlessly scrolling through TikToks than toiling over Tolkien. More posting on Instagram than understanding Ibsen.

We, as a generation, are among the last to have spent our early childhood playing fairies high up in trees, skinning our knees lying stomach-down on skateboards, and keeping house for a horde of American Girl Doll children. We never had the choice between iPad or outside, so we never needed to worry our pretty little, acne-free heads over fighting the urge to just sit and play Doodle Jump or actually jump on a trampoline. 

Now, as a freshly minted adult, I can tell you that the choice between TikTok and Tolkein is a much easier one to make. And let’s just say the end result doesn’t involve Gollum and Gandalf. 

The fact of the matter is that picking up a phone is easier than picking up a 200, 300, or 400 plus page book. You carry your phone everywhere—and who wouldn’t? Your whole life is contained in vibrantly colored little squares just beckoning you to touch them and reap the rewards. Remember when Odysseus stuffed his ears with wax so he wouldn’t be tempted by the Sirens? Yeah, we need something like that so the beeping and buzzing and brightness of our phones doesn’t continually lure us to the dark side of scrolling. I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Every time I’ve picked up a book to try and read recently, I’m embarrassed to admit that my attention span has looked something like a dog in a park after spotting a squirrel: I’m very focused … until I’m not. 

How on earth do you start reading again after a six-year dry patch? Unfortunately, the key isn’t a magic Harry Potter spell that forces your focus (but there, again, is another great idea for an app!). The answer isn’t to get rid of your phone, either … I’m no monster. But perhaps there are a few things that we can do to baby-step our way back into the land of the literati. 

First, technology was invented to make our lives easier. And let’s face it, you probably have more room in your backpack or your pocket for your phone than you do for something like Les Misérables. If getting back into reading for you means using Kindle, Apple Books, or Libby, so be it. Better yet, invest in Audible and listen to the handsome Jake Gyllenhaal narrate The Great Gatsby, the stunning Reese Witherspoon regale you with her recitation of Go Set a Watchman, or even Matthew McConaughey’s rendition of his own Greenlights. I can’t promise any “Alright, alright, alright,” but I can promise that those voices will make reading sexy again.  

Second, start small. No one is saying that you have to be like I was as a kid and walk around with books in each hand. Those 10 pages you read today are better than no pages at all. 

Third, read what you want. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to read old people’s books. Don’t force yourself to read a boring book just because everyone else was raving about it. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, and the options are endless. Remember, beach reads aren’t just for the beach.  

Fourth, hop on Instagram and follow your favorite author. I follow Mary Oliver and she’s been dead for years. 

Finally, let’s take back the library. Remember when you used to go to the library to check out a book or two and just … read? So, the next time you’re on your way out of O’Neill after crying your eyes out over calculus or something, stop and ask a librarian what they’re reading. I promise you they have something good. 

So yes, I’m a recovering bibliophile and proud of it. The reading weather this week has been optimal, so for now I’ll stay cozied up, dutifully committing myself to the pages of a book that has lived the majority of its life thus far collecting dust on my bookshelf. And, hey, maybe by next week I’ll be averaging six pages a day instead of my usual four.

Featured Graphic by Olivia CharbonneauHeights Editor

October 31, 2021

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