The Unread Book Project: It Took 20 Inches of Snow

20 inches of snow, oh my!

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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Related Posts:
The Unread Book Project

8 thoughts on “The Unread Book Project: It Took 20 Inches of Snow

  1. I think those whose brains who were raised reading hand held books probably aren’t in as much jeopardy for neural pathway distractions as the next generation of readers. This is the age of Attention Deficit Disorders, after all. I wonder what Carr might say about Kindle reading. My great grand baby is growing up with one. Though, perhaps, as long as the pictures are not in color, there’s a chance for her, yet.

    ooching? I had to look it up. ;)

    1. For sure, the next generation will be different. I went to write “have it more difficult” – but I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is that technology is changing the way we think and absorb information. How lucky are we to have and know the hand-held paper technologies, still, right?

  2. what??? no comments here??? this is heady stuff!!!!!

    hey, there are even commercials about people who have too much stuff in their brains from surfing the internet – they regurgitate what they have “learned” in a zombie monotone, eyes wide and unseeing… not the kind of thing that happens after you read a book, i’m pretty sure!

    but it does take that commitment to read something, whether it’s an article, book, magazine… there’s a funny exchange (i can’t remember what movie it’s from) – someone says, “But I can’t read!” and the other person replies, “Of course not, who has the time?”

    i feel envious of people who say, “oh i just read the best book…” and i think, what’s my excuse? of course, i have a million of them, most of most are pretty lame – oh, well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!

    thanks, jen, for your honest and very cleverly written essay above – i think it’s one of the most heartfelt one yet – now go read one of those 299 books!! love, mrs G

    1. I know…I have a friend who is ALWAYS telling me she’s just read that or just read this. I’m not so much envious of the time, but the adventures she has in doing so. That feeling of being swept up in the words, in the lives of other people, into other worlds. I miss that a great deal!

      As for zombie brains, my sister reminded me this week of a movie to watch called Idiocracy. Anyone seen it? It’s a startling statement – like my sister said, a comedy for some folks, a horror movie for other.

  3. oh – and here’s a little poem that i have always liked a lot:

    You may have tangible wealth untold;
    Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
    Richer than I you can never be —
    I had a mother who read to me.
    — Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954)

    and i did! mrs G

  4. It’s funny that you refer to the impact the internet has on our reading. David will only read if it is on the computer. It doesn’t have to be online, but it needs to be on the computer screen. What is it about the computer that pulls us toward it like a cat chasing a string toy?
    BTW, last new years I vowed to start reading the classics. I did love what I read in high school and college. I have been on the same book for 6 months.

    1. Oh, I know THAT feeling! Sometimes I sit here [at the computer] and it seems like I’m working or being productive…but I am really just pushing the proverbial papers, and the next thing you know, it’s 2 or 3 or 4 hours later! There’s something very hypnotic about the computer (and the television, really). It’s addictive. Reading could be, at some level, too, I suppose – but it feels so much more organic and “healthy”?

      So, what are you reading? And…OK, I’m about to start on unread book #2…how about you pick up that book and finish along with me?

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