Reading Gets More Mysterious Every Day

A mystery author friend laughingly told me about getting lost a few years back while reading a crime novel—but not lost in the book. Lost outside of it. She found a reference to The Seven Year’s War and because she wasn’t sure what that conflict was (it pitted most of Europe’s major powers against each other from 1754-63), she set her book down and went to her Mac to Google it.

Online, she found herself jumping from one intriguing website to another, ranging further and further afield from The French and Indian War, to Frederick the Great, then Prussian history, on to Bismark a century later. Suddenly she realized she had completely forgotten her book:  “Lev, I was ‘gone’ for an hour and a half!”  I’d had similar experiences where I could be a sleuth who has completely lost the thread of his case.

We talked about how we often interrupted ourselves now while reading, not in ordinary ways—to get some coffee, let the dogs out, go to the john, even check e-mail—but in ways sparked by the book. Something in it piqued our curiosity and we had to stop reading, or felt we had to. The days of sinking into a book in happy oblivion of the world around us had almost vanished.  Those were days we had grown up with and enjoyed even into adulthood, but they seemed infrequent.

We weren’t sure whether this was due to aging, our busy lives wearing on us, or the fragmented consciousness supposedly bred by web browsing (or all of these), but one thing we agreed on: it was a rare book that keep us transfixed anymore. A rare book that raised questions we could save for later, whether at the end of a chapter or the end of an hour. A book that made us pause not because we had to look something up, but because we wanted to re-read a passage, to relish a plot twist, to mull over a question, to savor an image, to copy something down, or even to call a friend or lover to share a part of it. In short, a book whose spell was so powerful that not even the lure of the Internet could pull us away.

It’s getting harder all the time.  Now my friend and I are reading more and more books on our iPads as opposed to the old-fashioned way.  As the New York Times recently noted, distraction is even easier: We don’t even have to move from where we are to leave the book we’re in the middle of.  We used to feel anchored by books; too often now, we’re set adrift.

Luckily we’re mystery authors, so we’re not entirely clueless.  And GPS doesn’t hurt…..

Excerpted from Book Lust!, a collection of essays for book lovers of all kinds.


6 Responses

  1. I like this observation, Lev. It seems to apply to other things as well—watching movies, where you can click on a cast member’s name and find out immediately what else she’s been in, for example.

    The world has developed a case of ADD.

  2. My goodness, to me it’s so simple. We are curious beings, especially those of us who write in some manner, doesn’t have to be mysteries. And because the e-reading we often do these days makes it easy to satisfy our curiosity, off we go! But I don’t consider it a bad thing. I’ve always done it, but now it’s easier. I do always come back to the book and so often the additional info I’ve gained in my time away has value, not just in reading the book I “left” but in other spots in my life.

    • I’ve always been curious, I guess, but even pre-Internet, I didn’t rush off to check a dictionary or encyclopedia. But you’re right, we returned enriched from our side trips!

  3. There’s little I love more than getting lost in a book…so I take mine in paper…in a computer-less room, or maybe outside.

    And as a crime fiction writer, I write on a word processor, running Windows 98, which has never seen an internet connection, so I can get lost in my own books, too.

    I admire those writers, though, who can follow links, absorbing facts, and researching. And at least I can always email them 🙂

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