I used to love to read.
In grade school, reading was my preferred recess activity, far above four square, jumping rope, and doing flips on the jungle gym. By high school, I must have scaled up to a good four or five hours a day spent cracking open a book and just blissing out. I considered it more than a hobby; it was part of who I was.
But lately reading has become a rarer activity for me. And it’s easy to figure out why.
I know too much.
I’ve spent years thinking about, talking about, and analyzing the craft of storytelling from every possible angle. I can recount well-thought-out opinions about plot, character, scene, and structure. About beginnings and middles and ends. I can illustrate with examples from television, movies, and books. And I can make you believe me, because frankly, I know what I’m talking about.
And when I pick up a book, even if it’s just for fun, I can’t shut off that knowledge. If a character is flat or a scene is emotionally blah, I can’t help but notice. If the plot is a little hinky or predictable, I’ll notice that too.
And I guess, overall, I’m glad. Because it means I’ve learned a lot. But it does make reading a lot less fun. These days I bliss out on one in ten books, or maybe one in twenty. The rest… well, I enjoy them, but always from a rather clinical perspective.
I’m reminded of a anecdote from the very funny book The Last Catholic in America. The young narrator decides to give up, for Lent, a habit dearer to him than life itself: thumb sucking. Oh, how he loves to suck his thumb! Yet for forty long days he resists temptation. At last Easter arrives, and he can indulge to his heart’s delight.
But tragedy strikes. After a month of no thumb sucking, he discovers he simply doesn’t like it anymore. I’ll never forget the last line of that chapter:
By winning, I had lost.