Suffering from reader fatigue

“I’m tired, I’m tired of books, said Jack. “I yearn for the meadows green.” My former editor Brigitte Weeks used to intone those words on sunny afternoons at Book World. I’ve certainly felt that way from time to time, thinking that I’ve spent far too much time in bookstores, libraries and reading chairs and not anywhere near enough in walking through the woods or beach-combing or working in the garden.

Balance, they say, is the thing, but I suppose I’ve always been slightly unbalanced, even obsessive about the matters that interest me. No half-measures has always been my motto, even when I’ve sometime waffled and failed to live up to it.

Still, reading has long held a premier position in my life, second only to love and friendship, and I’ve never gone to bed thinking that I had read as much that day as I would have liked. In childhood, I could quite literally stick my nose in books from morning to night, and in college and grad school was often forced to do so. In my later years, I often pictured myself reading or rereading my way through the treasures of the library I would have doubtless accumulated.

Well, I have that library — do I ever! — but I wonder about that bookish golden-years daydream. While I haven’t slowed down in my work, and don’t intend to, I have — to my puzzlement and regret — slowed down in my reading. My body simply can’t sit still, or lie still, for more than an hour at a time. My muscles start to ache, I nod off, I search in vain for a comfortable position. Given that I still need to do a lot of reading as a reviewer and essayist, this is a real problem for me.

I suppose one answer might be more exercise, or sitting at a table rather than in an easy chair. Another might be deciding to read less or faster. Or finding a slightly different line of work — I do enjoy teaching and have long hoped that my occasional gig at the University of Maryland might become regularized. Had the world of used books not changed so dramatically because of the Internet, I would love to be a book scout or work in a good used bookstore.

Do other members of the Reading Room suffer from “reader’s fatigue” of one sort or another? How do you deal with it? Do you have a vision of your reading life in later years? Do you think it will ever come about? Has reading ever let you down when you turned to it for escape or solace? What do you do? Thoughts and advice are welcome, as always.

— Michael Dirda

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