Now that the dust has finally settled on the annus horribilis that was 2016 and we have collectively heaved a sigh of relief, I’m looking back at a year of countless personal setbacks. It is a rather masochistic exercise, one that has me cringing at the memory of each of my bad decisions, compromises & unaddressed and unresolved issues. It is also one where I realize how I have completely stopped reading and thus will struggle to cultivate a reading habit after months of abandoning them halfway through because I had no motivation to turn the page.
In fact, the last time I read a book from cover to cover was in December 2015 when I was revisiting my favorite classics and had finished King Solomon’s Mines in one sitting. In 2016 I saw no point in even picking up one, despite my stack of unread books growing at an alarming read and threatening to tip over.
I grew up surrounded by books, seeking company and answers between pages, befriending literary characters, conjuring up impossible scenarios in my head. I have always had an active imagination attributed to a childhood of voracious reading. In Bombay where I currently reside, we have wonderful book cafes, reading meetups and most importantly, weekend book sales for broke bibliophiles of all sorts. I have attended a few, met like-minded people who have added much joy to my life in the form of reading recommendations.
But then 2016 happened. And with it, came a barrage of problems. Work hours got long and the stress got crazy. Poor lifestyle choices contributed to severe health issues-both physical and mental. Slowly but eventually I lost interest in everything. I stopped working out. I stopped socializing. Eating healthy. And reading.
For some reading is a way of coping with life. For me, reading became another pastime I simply could not work up my enthusiasm for. The words did not register. The emotions did not sink it. I was merely skimming through the pages. And I hate skim-reading.
I do not blame social media and pop culture (read: Netflix) for my predicament though. Binge-watching GOT season 6 or taking the umpteenth ‘Which Stranger Things Character Are You?” quiz on Buzzfeed did not distract me. If anything, they steeled my resolve to read more historical fantasy and explore more sci-fi literature. Not fibbing.
But it took superhuman efforts to pick up a book, let alone finish it. And it was not for the lack of trying. Keeping up with reading lists, working my way through ever-growing piles of unread books got impossible in the face of deadline struggles, high cholesterol and all-consuming stress.
It wasn’t a sad realization. It was more of an indifferent acceptance and one you cannot do much about. “I am unfit. I feel numb. Forget creative, I am not even in the right headspace to be productive. Hence I do not see any point in reading.”
It was not a reading slump. It was full blown withdrawal from which there seemed no escape.
Few things kept me going though. Harry Potter e-books on phone which I binge read for a quick pick me up were an absolute life-saver. Friends who published poems & short stories, friends who wrote and drew comics, friends who got exciting bylines, friends who actually ‘made good art’ and shared it with the world kept me sane. They’re in fact the only things which I have managed to read at all in 2016.
It’s 2017 now and I am a sucker for all ‘New Year, New Me’ ish quotes and motivation. A year-ender surgery and a week in the hospital gave some opportunity for introspection. For starters, I have decided against putting undue pressure on myself. Having gotten rid of a lot of negativities, I’m slowly redeveloping a reading habit & getting ready to read with gusto hitherto absent from my life. Also I am taking up the 2016 reading challenge I had abandoned to be a more disciplined reader and sustain the habit. Here’s the Book Clubbish 2016 reading challenge I’ll be taking in 2017 as well:
Happy reading and making good art to everyone!