This past Sunday, from sun up to sun down, I went off the grid. Inspired by my decision earlier in the week to deactivate my Facebook account, I decided to go “all in” and spend a blissful day without using my various devices: computer, iPad, and television chief among them. I allowed myself to glance at incoming emails occasionally on my phone (of which there were precisely three, two of them from Living Social), but even those spot checks felt unnatural and unnecessary as the day wore on. With all of this extra time on my hands, I returned to something I’ve been doing far too little of here in Austin. I read.
I was thinking about why this is, why reading — something that has seemingly always been such an important part of my daily life — has faded into the background of late. I can think of a few possible reasons. First, before I got here, I went through a marathon reading of all of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, from page one of Book One to the very last page of Book Five. I read them in record time (I think I started in mid March and finished in early June) and, upon finishing, I was spent. I just couldn’t muster the energy and enthusiasm to move on to something new. To make matters worse, I don’t think it helped that the next novel I picked up was Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter. A damn fine writer, Richard Ford. But a “guy writer” if there ever was one. No ladies need apply. I once had a male friend who carried a tattered copy of Independence Day with him everywhere he went. Okay, no, I didn’t. But I should have. That’s the kind of guy writer Richard Ford is; the kind who inspires men both real and imaginary to carry his tattered books in their well worn leather satchels, to move to the bucolic suburbs of New Jersey and start Divorced Men’s Clubs, and to name their firstborn sons Frank. That book took me seven weeks to read.
The other reason I’ve been so off reading, besides the obvious poor choice of reading material, is because my carefully assembled routine has been forever interrupted. In New York, I did most pleasure reading on the subway. After many moons of trying to perfect my reading for work / reading for pleasure balance, a few years ago I adjusted my schedule thusly: In the mornings, before heading to the office, I’d sit on my couch, coffee in hand, and read for my job as a literary agent. Proposals, articles, manuscripts, memos. Anything and everything work related had my full attention for one to three hours every morning. After that, it was pleasure reading for the rest of the day. On the subway in the morning, on the subway in the evening, in the tub at the end of a long day: pleasure reading. But now? No morning subway ride. No evening subway ride. No tub.
So you can see why a new routine was necessary and, after my recent controlled experiment, I think I’ve found it. Sunday will be my day to hop off the grid and into a comfortable reading chair, like I did this past week. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it was. My eyeballs thanked me for the time off from “the screens! The screens!” My imagination thanked me for the chance to meander off course and back again without all of the visuals that accompany pretty much everything I consume online. And Richard Ford thanked me, or he should have, for finally finishing his long suffering book. What to read next? All suggestions welcome. Don’t say “Independence Day.”
And one last note on the Facebook announcement I so casually slipped into that first paragraph above: I don’t miss it at all. For something I was spending an awful lot of time checking and checking into and updating and browsing, it has slipped quietly out of my life with barely a ripple. Postcards, emails, phone calls. These are the ways I’ll be keeping in touch with the good souls in my life moving forward (except on Sundays). You know who you are.