Monday, January 25, 2010

To Quit Reading...Cold Turkey

A woman I know sees this when she casually looks at a book.

Not because she lost her glasses.

She didn't used to. Once, she was an even more prolific reader than I am, every spare minute curled up in the corner of the couch, a mug of cooling coffee next to her, finger holding her place when she looked up. Not a bookmark user, she would leave her books upside down, or memorize (roughly) the page number, flipping back through until she found her spot.

She doesn't see this every time. She can screw her eyes up six ways to Sunday and with the help of her not very helpful glasses, she can do just enough to write a check or review a bill. That effort costs her, and afterwards, she has to "rest" her eyes for a while, leaning back with her eyes closed, battling vertigo.

I would estimate she has a couple thousand books in her house. Stacked haphazardly in bookshelves, closets, her nightstand holds an increasingly dusty stack of brand new books slowly getting older. I think she's managed to slowly work her way through a couple paperbacks... especially heartbreaking to me, as I used to watch her whip through at least one book a day. It's from her I inherited my love for books and freakish speed at reading.

It wasn't even the stroke that did it, although she has a permanent and random case of vertigo from that. No, it was the chemo and/or radiation, exactly which I'm not certain. The treatment that spared Mom's life cost her a huge part of it.

She misses them, her books. She refuses to discuss it, in mourning, I think. People still give them as gifts, and she's gracious, but doesn't share her pain. Her favorite (and only) hobby...cut off completely.

She was the first person I thought of when this topic came up. How to choose? Lisabet very neatly summarized my own feelings on the topic. I'm probably up there close to her 5K books, while 10 years behind in age. I racked up over a thousand on Goodreads in 6 months, so it's most likely even more than that. And to choose one... a Sisyphean task to debate the merits of each one I've read..and haven't yet read.

So the choice of one to save, I would defer to my mom. In hopes that someday, she'll again be able to pick up her choice, and read.


  1. Oh, Devon!

    That sounds like a very personal sort of hell.

    What about audio books? And is there nothing that can be done about this problem?

    A thousand books that you've READ in six months? Or that you've listed?

    Thank you for a remarkable take on this topic.

    Hugs to you-- and to your mom.


  2. This reminds me very painfully of a Twilight Zone episode where a man who desperately wanted to read but wasn't given time finally had the chance when the rest of the human race disappeared. Then he broke his glasses. Every bookworm I know who's seen this episode shudders in fear at the thought of such a thing happening to them.

    I don't know if your mother has considered audio books yet or not, but if she might be interested, has several free audio books available for download. She could listen to them on a computer or download them to an MP3 player. It takes longer to listen to a book than to read it yourself, but maybe this might help. I can't say for certain though. Reading is a very personal experience, as we all know.

    My thoughts go out to your mom.

  3. I was just thinking of that Twilight Zone episode when I saw Helen's comment. Its amazing how everybody remembers that one.

    Life is really unfair. I hope your mother gets to listen to audio books. You can download a lot of them for free at


  4. Hi Lisabet...I know, it's about the worst "side effect" she could have endured. Oh, it's great that she has her distance vision enough to drive and be able to live independently, but losing the reading was a HUGE blow.

    I decided when I joined GR that there was no way to go back in time, so those are all "current", and mostly ebooks, which I only started reading in the past year.

    Between reading at least one book for pleasure a day, insomnia, super fast reading speed (I'm a freak), plus adding all the ones I proof or edit (20-30 a month)...the numbers add up in a hurry. Granted, many are short stories or novellas.

  5. Helen and Garce, I'd forgotten about that Twilight Zone...very apropos. With all the recovery time she's had between chemo, the bone marrow transplant, coming out of her coma and building her strength back up, it would be the perfect time to do lots of...reading. Sigh. Not to mention she lives in SD alone on a farm and gets snowed in a lot.

    We've all tried to encourage the audio books. My brother got her a Kindle to take to the hospital, but she hasn't really used it. I bought her some series by her favorite sci fi authors on disc, and last time I was there, they were still in their packaging. She's old school about holding the books. Maybe we're wired similarly (as our habits and reading speed seem to mirror one another), I have a hard time "waiting" for audio, it does seem a very slow relating of a story...altho I'd never considered the speed as an issue before Helen mentioned it. Hmmm...

    I have to say, losing my sight (and ergo my ability to read) has always been one of my few personal fears, even before all this.

    Thanks for your comments and wishes. Garce, great topic, wish I had a more literary post in answer for you!

  6. Devon,

    I'm running a little late this week. I just wanted to stop by and add my thoughts about how devastating this loss must be to your mum.

    As a writer, reader and book lover, I simply can't comprehend the horror of losing the ability to flick through pages and curl up with a good read.

    And I'd like to echo the hopes of your final line: that someday your mum will be able to pick up the book of her choice and read again.



  7. Devon,

    Sweetie, please give you mom a big hug for me. Please.

    I can only imagine the hell she is going through, loosing so much ... and now the escape and enjoyment that books offer.

    I've always said I will give up my hearing, my sense of smell and taste before I would give up my eyesight.

    Has she looked into braile? I know she isn't blind, but being unable to read, and not tempted by audio books, it might give her that tactile connect with books while still allowing her to journey into the worlds her beloved authors create.

    Please, hug her for me.


  8. Devon,

    I feel for your mother. I can't imagine not being able to do something that I enjoy so much. I hope that she can find something to help fill that space in her life.


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