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15th May 2018

I am a journalist who doesn’t read books, here is my shame

Wayne Farry

I probably shouldn’t be admitting this

Reading is a wonderful pastime. It allows us to dive headfirst into worlds of creativity and colour, to use our imaginations to create visions of the words we are processing, and to extricate ourselves – if only for a few short hours – from the crushing reality of being an adult.

So why don’t I do it?

I love the idea of reading. I love the idea of reading more than the practice of reading. Who wouldn’t? Reading is transformative. Reading is time travel. Reading is teleportation and transmogrification. It is all of these things and more.

Sometimes I’ll sit on my couch inside of the house in which I live thinking about how good it would be to read a book at some point. To walk over to the half-empty bookshelf which continues to collect dust in the same way an avid reader collects books, books they plan to and will read.

I’ll often consider walking over there and picking up the copy of Don Quixote I purchased at a charity shop many moons ago, at a time in my life when I was more optimistic about my reading prospects and exceedingly more pretentious about everything else.

Or perhaps, instead, I might walk over there and pick up the copy of Homer’s Odyssey which my partner’s mother kindly gave me as a birthday present under the foolish assumption that –  as a journalist – I would take the time to read a literary classic.

But I don’t walk over there. I don’t walk near there. Instead, I turn on my PlayStation 4 and proceed to consistently die during games of Fortnite, flick over to YouTube and watch hour after hour of basketball highlights or CinemaSins videos, or simply open up Instagram before scrolling thoughtlessly through thousands of photos of cute pugs like a monotonous drone who just really, really likes pugs.

I do all of this to avoid doing something which would actually enlighten me, while tricking myself into believing that I still very much am.

Why don’t I read? I’m really not sure.

I wasn’t always like this. As a child I inhaled books on a consistent basis. I was the annoying arsehole in your class who would finish your week-long reading assignment in one evening, always desperate to find out what was happening on the next page, always desperate to find out what would happen in the next book.

Goosebumps were my main drink of choice as a youngster and R.L. Stine was the barman who didn’t care about the legal drinking age in Ireland; his stories delighted and terrified me in every conceivable way. I would sit up at night – book lamp in hand or bedside lamp on depending on just how brave I was feeling – and read about puppets coming to life or invisible monsters until my chubby little eyelids shut.

Unfortunately, these books were the last to have an effect on me in a truly impactful way. They created a love for horror and the macabre which continues today, and they represent the last time I experienced a truly visceral emotional response to a piece of literary work.

I would go on to read extensively as a teenager and a young adult, but it wasn’t the same. I felt like a once-great thespian trying to reclaim his glory days which are always in sight and always out of reach. I could remember what it felt like to feel something from a book, but I couldn’t feel it.

Books such as Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Paul Auster’s Invisible – as much as I love them – have failed to truly hit me where they should, aside from Auster’s novel reinforcing my already-held belief that sleeping with your sister is, and always will be, very wrong.

There are different ways of reading into the fact that nothing could hit me in the feels post-Goosebumps. Did my brain stop developing at the age of 11 and yet I somehow still managed to finish school and gain lawful employment as a person who writes one word after the other?

Did the Goosebumps series actually have such a profound effect on me that I simply stopped feeling anything, doomed to wander this cold, dark wasteland reading things but taking nothing in, as if everything were smeared with a thick layer of grease?

Honestly, I do not know.

Throughout my life, I never considered that this was odd in any discernible way. I was – and am – content traipsing through my life as the philistine I am. In fact, it wasn’t until I was tasked with writing an article about books for JOE’s Book Month that I was forced to take a step back and come to terms with the fact that my closest thing to a relationship with books was the fact that I don’t have one.

It must also be said, I feel no ill will towards the world of books. I feel no resentment towards writers. I feel no envy towards the words themselves.

I do not walk past people reading books in the park and think “ha, fucking nerd”. Instead, I think “that looks nice, I hope they enjoy reading that book which I will never read”. It doesn’t matter what the book in question is.

I admire people who find time to read, people who enrich their lives with the ideas of our greatest minds and go on to do great things with those ideas. I admire people who find time to read just for the sake of it, to pass a bit of time and perform a touch of escapology. I admire books and reading itself.

Perhaps I am destined to go on, avoiding reading at every turn until one day I have an idea for a book of my own. Perhaps I will toil night and day writing this book – my magnum opus – until the day that the ink on the final exclamation point (it’s going to have loads of them) has dried.

Perhaps, just then, I will spot another book with its cover peeking out from under my couch like a clue just wanting to be found in a Hollywood thriller, and suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to read it. And perhaps I will. Right to the end.

Or perhaps, and this is significantly more likely, I will continue in my current state, walking the streets disguised as a man who may well read books semi-regularly, but knowing all the while that I simply don’t, nor ever will again.

I will likely do this until the day I leave this earth, ignoring persistent recommendations for audio books and, in the future, ignoring persistent recommendations to have the latest masterpiece instantly transferred into my neural library with the tap of my bank card.

Or am I all wrong? Is there another way? Have I lived a life so sheltered and removed from the simple pleasures of reading that I can no longer even imagine redemption – what I presume is a central tenet of many literary storylines – for myself?

I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe there is more. I want to believe there is a future for me. And may know just the thing for it.

Please Tweet @waynefarry with any recommendations for #JOEBookMonth to help save his literary future.