Smile Politely

Reading is cool again

While I usually end up admitting to a lot of things in this column, I have to be honest — there are a whole hell of a lot of things I don’t admit to. This is mostly so I don’t scare people, but it’s also because some of it is just sort of embarrassing. I figure I might as well admit to one this week that makes me feel like a totally terrible person. Here goes. I have only recently started reading again with the regularity that I feel I should be reading.

Yeah, I know it’s not exactly the worst thing in the world to stop reading, but it sort of feels that way, especially since I’ve taken it back up again with a vengeance and I once again know what I was missing. I should be clear that I still read during my year or so hiatus, probably just as much as always. It’s just that I wasn’t reading books, per se. I’d read long articles in magazines and online. I’d read sports stories and music reviews. Hell, I’d even read the nutrition facts on a box of cereal. All of these were fine reading; it’s just that they ultimately weren’t what I was looking for.


I would like to give a far better reason as to why I let my reading habits lapse than being busy, couldn’t find the right book, or was super happy just watching TV all the time. In fact, there has to be a better reason, since all of those things aren’t really true. The real reason, I think, is that I just got lazy and that laziness grew exponentially each week I allowed it to continue. A book can really seem like an enormous commitment sometimes.

It’d be swell to blame my short attention span on society or USA Today or video games, but it’s simply my fault. I thought I didn’t need to read all that much anymore, a couple of books a year seemed like more than enough. I should note that by “a couple of books,” I mean exactly two books and one of them was usually about sports. Yeah, it’s fine to read about sports, but there should still be something else. After all, most people don’t have dessert for every meal … though it sounds sort of awesome.


Part of what got me back to reading was that stupid Tough Mudder race I did. While I was training I was tired a lot and lying in bed reading seemed awesome because it often made me forget that my knee was about to explode a bunch of shaved bone into my face. The thing was though, just doing anything for a long time, whether it was running or reading, made me realize that many things aren’t quite as boring as I perceive them to be.

My mom got me Tony LaRussa’s book, about managing his last year with the Cardinals, for Christmas. Obviously, I expected this to be one of the two books I’d read this year. I read it in about a week or so and actually felt sad when it was finished. At first I thought I was sad because I missed Tony, but I soon realized that I missed reading.

After that I picked up a book called 2030, at Jane Addams. I’d wanted to read it when it came out, but I’d already read a book that year so it apparently had to wait. The wait was worth it. 2030 is a book about what the future might be like written by comedian/actor/filmmaker Albert Brooks. It’s weird because none of his professions are really like the others, even though they should be. Just the same, he’s pretty good at everything he does.

His book seems like it will be confusing at first because there are a lot of characters, but even my lazy ass was able to sort them out after a few chapters. The book was sometimes a little funny, but mostly it was scary and began to seem like the future might not be all that fabulous. Either way, I wanted to start reading it over after I was finished. Not only did I begin to understand that I liked reading again, but I also realized that I had been using books to go to sleep and now books were once again keeping me awake.

Since I’d already got my two-book quota out of the way and it was only February, I figured I was playing with house money at this point. I read a couple of Jim Thompson compilations. They lasted about a long as a sleeve of Starburst on a road trip. Since I was in that pulpy mood, I picked up a book about Bobby Greenlease, a kid who got kidnapped and killed in 1953, called Zero at the Bone. The kidnappers were sort of drunkenly hilarious and shortsighted, and it might have even been very funny, you know, had they not kidnapped a little boy and killed him.

This past week I just finished Devil in a White City, that book about the 1893 World’s Fair. I read it when it came out about ten years ago and what I took away from it then was that there was a creepy-assed serial killer that took it upon himself to thin the herd of people going to the World’s Fair. Since I was still in creepy, pulpy mode from the kidnapping book, I figured this would be a fun thing to reread. It was, but not for the reason I thought.

This time, I was much more fascinated by the story of Daniel Burnham, the architect that put the fair together. I remember him from the first reading, but those parts seemed like something I had to plow through so I could read more about that awesome serial killer. Now it was the other way around, the planning and building of the fair was captivating, while the dickhole killing everyone grew very tiresome before I’d even made it halfway through the book. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m becoming a better person or anything.


Actually, I’m fairly certain that I’m not becoming a better person because of reading. I still find time to do all sorts of freaky crap besides reading. Still, I sort of feel like a better person now that I’m reading again. I feel maybe a little smarter, but mostly I just feel like I can think better. Starting any project doesn’t seem quite as daunting because I know I can finish it if I just stick with it. Hopefully, I’ve finally finished that chapter of my life where I don’t have time for reading. Get it? Chapter? Yeah, I’m still a terrible person.

Buona sera, senorina, kiss me goodnight.

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