I grew up in the library.
I was -in large part- raised by books… for much of my life I marinated in books, I inhaled them. They were some of my first friends, some of my fondest moments. They were paths through, and into and around my context. I loved books, always knew I wanted to dedicate a serious portion of my life to making more of them.
But there came a point in my life where I stopped reading many books.
Which was bad for me as a writer, worse for me as a human being.
There is a concept (in the weirdo circles I move through) called ‘soul retrieval.’ On a most basic level, this is a concept of travelling to other realms to retrieve missing parts of peoples ‘souls’ or ‘vital essences’ to put them back together; usually after a fragmentation derived of trauma. I’ve never done this for anyone nor have I ever called to have this done for me, but this is how it feels to become serious about reading books again, to spend a greater portion of my free time in libraries (which is where I’m typing these words).
I don’t know that I’ve been through trauma lately to crack something essential in me, but I will say there’s something about the way of the world & my path through it that can often leave me feeling fragmented. Defaulting into the currents of algorithmically polished and recommend ease has meant I spent (or spend) a much larger than ideal share of my time these past few years with social media & video. Sometimes, it was all I felt I had energy for after a busy schedule of work, family and friends.
I still bought books, but increasingly didn’t read them. All this contributed (I believe) to the lightly anxious feeling that I increasingly was unable to complete a thought or sentence, vague discomforts that would have me grasping at whisps and diversions, or the twitchy desirousness of distraction or that spine shiver of worry that I was essentially ‘missing out.’
It’s like the gears in me couldn’t quite click into place.
I’ve always read, but there was a period of my life where I somewhat stopped reading books because a greater and greater percentage of my reading time went to internet reading, and while the truth is there’s a lot of incredible writing published digitally and nowhere else I was prone to sinking into well optimized listicles as anyone. More of my time was spent with the sorts of writing which dissolved like so much cotton candy for the mind… while just barely in that inchoate zone I craved some vital, missing nutrient.
I don’t know what it was exactly that got me reading again, only becoming aware of the absence of books from my life and recognized that I needed to take action here. But it’s healing and balancing for me to swim around someone else’s head for a while, to go deeper into someone’s complete thought beyond what can be summarized and optimized -with boldness, headings, and other typographical flourishes- for ease of scanning, for clickability, for ease of linking to other ad-supported pieces that I can continue to not quite read or even dutifully file away in Instapaper -my read it later app- into a bit stack that I’ll never actually digest.
Sitting with a book gives the sense at times of legitimately travelling in different worlds, places where I’m challenged, delighted, unsettled (in a way that transcends jump-scare outrage that drains my energy) and possibly bettered. I know the library is absolutely a different sort of world; one of the last bastions of ‘public’ property where I can bask in the incredible wealth & essential optimism of sharing information and entertainment just because I’m a member of this community. It’s also one of the few places in my life where nobody is trying to sell me anything, where I can exist and participate without buying. It’s hard to say exactly how nice and refreshing that is.
My goal is to read 52 books this year. As of today, I’ve read 41 with half a dozen more started and then discarded because if I’m to prioritize this sort of reading again I can’t be bogged down with a slog through a tome that isn’t speaking to me. Most of these -including the ebooks and audiobooks- were checked out for free at the library.
And it feels like nothing so much as a soul retrieval.
And it feels like nothing so much as coming home.