One of my fondest childhood memories involve my brother, me and, like most other memorable moments, a book. It was a Sunday night and my mother, after convincing herself that my 10-year-old brother and I were asleep, quietly left the room. As the wooden stairs creaked under her footsteps, my sleepless eyes flew wide open and my brother leaped out of his lower bunk. Out came our hidden stash of books, flashlights and candy. As we stealthily turned page after page, our minds were caught up in rapturous attention but our ears as alert as ever. The faintest sound of my mother's footsteps was enough for us to escape into the blankets, feigning sleep. That night, my brother and I fought sleep and risked the possible wrath of my mother as we lived vicariously through words under the glow of two flashlights.
I don’t remember when I picked up my first book. I don’t even remember the title of the first book I ever read. What I do know is, that was the night I started my love affair with reading. And once it started, it never stopped. Soon enough, books became an extension of my hands, and their pages held the key to an escape from a comparatively ordinary reality.
“How do you get your child to read like that?” was a question almost every parent asked my mother as they saw me lost within the yellowed pages of my book. I didn’t know how to explain it to them. I didn’t know how to explain the surreal feeling inside me when the limitless alignment of different letters strummed my heart strings to a tune that only I could hear. I didn’t know how to tell them that I had lived through war, tasted adventure and conquered empires, all through the gentle turning of those vanilla scented pages. There were worlds hidden beneath those words, and I had fallen in love with every one of them.
And then it happened. The most unthinkable and heartbreaking thing that could have ever happened. I stopped reading. It's been 2 years and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book and populated my world with new faces and characters. Somewhere between the invention of Instagram, stressful school work, and the umpteenth listicle on Buzzfeed, I stopped reading. I stopped spending sleepless nights hopelessly falling for fictional heroes. My fingers were now reduced to scrolling through my newsfeed instead of turning the pages I used to drown in. Fiction ceased to ruin my reality.
I tried long and hard to find my obsession that had gone astray. I made frequent trips to the bookstores that were once my haven and bought any book with a promising review. My restless mind, however, could not get past the first few chapters without jumping to the ping of a notification on my phone. I found myself skipping through words that I once relished, and skimming through pages that I used to revel in. Failing to grasp my wandering attention, those books met their tragic fate as they joined the deceptive display that is my bookshelf.
“Wow, you must really love books” was a question I sheepishly nodded to while the insides of my stomach twisted with guilt.
Desperate to find answers and th tiny bit of solace that lies in knowing you’re not alone, I admitted to a google search that “I can’t read books anymore.” I was equal parts surprised and relieved to find that millions of people, from every corner of the internet, faced the same struggle I did. That’s the best thing about the internet. It reminds you that you’re not the only one and what you’re feeling is definitely not unprecedented.
After pouring over countless articles that articulated my struggle so well, I finally started to make sense of what was happening. My brain had forgotten the meaning of giving something it’s undivided attention. In a social-media driven generation where our lives are amidst a constant swirl of information leaking from every platform, my brain was overwhelmed, constantly jumping from one thing to another. I couldn’t be with anyone or anything wholly and uninterruptedly. I was seized with this constant sense of restlessness; no matter what I was doing, I always felt like I should be doing something else.
That’s why reading books became hard. Books deserve the utmost concentration that isn't fragmented by the constant buzzing of your phone. They demand large investments of time and energy that we seem to lack in this hyperconnected space. They deserve you, each and every ounce of your being.
So please, for the love of god, don’t stop reading. Not now, not ever. In this distracted age, learn to unplug and disconnect. Let those words challenge you, fascinate you and stretch out your brain. It’ll take a while. Some discipline, even. But once you do, you’ll reach a world that you once knew, a world of just your book and you.