“Things Fall Apart has lived in my bookshelves since the mid-eighties, when I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, and [Chinua] Achebe was a visiting lecturer.…Today, I have more than 300 books sitting on my bookshelves…”
So began The Unread Book Project.
“Beginning today, Monday, November 22, 2010,” I wrote, “I will start to read all of the unread books on my bookshelves.”
“My goal will be to tackle one unread book a week,” I proclaimed.
Like a heartfelt New Year’s resolution, I was determined to see it through. I thought I was ready.
Truth be told, The Unread Book Project had been sitting around for several months before I posted the grand intention on my blog. A great idea in concept, in practice it was a little harder.
It took a classic New England snowstorm and 20 inches of snow in my driveway to get me to sit down, sit still, and start reading.
My copy of Things Fall Apart is only 192 pages long, but it’s taken me four days to finish it. I had all sorts of excuses—there are so many African words in it, the type is too small, it’s not my kind of book. But, the real reason is that my reading brain is a little mushy these days.
I can feel it. As I sit there reading, it wants to do something else. It wants to look around, or flip through something, or change the subject. It’s like asking a child to sit still in a waiting room, and as painful as trying to meditate!
It’s my own fault—and my mother’s. She’s the one who used to sit me in my baby swing with a cookie to watch Mr. Rogers on television while she went off to do the laundry. I haven’t turned the TV off since. And its 13-minute commercial cycle is now my attention span. You can clock it.
I’m sure the internet has something to do with it, too. Author Nicholas Carr has written a whole book about “what the internet is doing to our brains,” called The Shallows.
In it, he “looks to neurological science to gauge the organic impact of computers, citing fascinating experiments that contrast the neural pathways built by reading books versus those forged by surfing the hypnotic Internet….This glimmering realm of interruption and distraction impedes the sort of comprehension and retention ‘deep reading’ engenders,” writes editor Donna Seaman.
So, can we get back to that “deep reading”?
At UMass, I majored in English. I will never forget the week my assignments included reading Shakespeare’s Richard III, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Prince by Machiavelli. Granted this was before I owned a business and had responsibilities besides showing up for class, but I still found my way through that much reading without ooching every 13 minutes.
Then again, it was also before I had cable or owned a channel changer, and back when faxes were all the rage!
It only took a snowstorm to get me on track. I hope!
Stayed tuned tomorrow for a review of Things Fall Apart, and the next book on the shelf.
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Click here to purchase a copy of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
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• The Unread Book Project