I recently David Ulin’s article in the LA Times, “The Lost Art of Reading.” In it, Ulin makes the case that reading a book is difficult these days, because “after spending hours reading e-mails and fielding phone calls in the office, tracking stories across countless websites, I find it difficult to quiet down.” Books, on the other hand, force us to slow down, “to distance (ourselves) from the present as a way of reconnecting with a more elemental sense of who we are.”
I began this reading adventure in part because I realized that on my recent week-long vacation in Cannon Beach, I had read three books, even though my days were filled with beaches and bumper cars and bikes and the usual mayhem that is our family. We had no computers; and of the five cell phones there, only my husband’s work phone had a signal.
On the drive down, the two older kids were texting friends and then, as the signal died off, discussing how many bars they had, and checking their phones constantly for new messages and asking repeatedly, “How many bars do you have now?” I don’t understand this particular obsession - if I was checking for bars, it would be the kind that serves blender drinks.
But I understand the immense gravitational pull of the constant updates. I spend a great deal of time flitting back and forth between email and Facebook and god help me, Twitter; and then obviously I need to feed my Webkinz and … I can’t even guess how many times I hit my browser’s refresh button in a day, because I can’t concentrate long enough to come up with a good estimate. I wonder if anyone’s published a study on that? Better google it.
Anyway, a funny thing happened when all the technology got shut off. No, it isn’t that my powers of concentration suddenly returned; you’ve already figured that out. It is that my stepson (who is a great reader but also a great gamer, and a keeper of very late hours), suddenly started getting up early. So one day, he and I got up around sunrise and took a long walk along the beach, down to Haystack Rock.
We saw tufted puffins flying, and a remarkable black bird with a long, bright orange bill, called a Black Oystercatcher. I took some pictures and then put the camera in my pocket and just stood there, barefoot in the sand, looking up, spotting puffins as they flew overhead, trying to see what other birds their might be. The water was incredibly cold. It was very quiet except for the sound of the ocean and the cries of the birds circling the rock.
Shane and I didn’t talk all that much on our walk, which is remarkable given that this is a boy I once paid $20 to say nothing for a full half hour, and I consider it money well spent. But on this walk, we were mostly quiet, in a pleasant kind of way.
We shared our adventure with the rest of the family, who agreed that we should go back and visit the puffins again, the next morning. My husband, who has endured many an eyeroll from me when he mentions his childhood birdwatching, commented, “I think it’s a great idea, we’ll make a birdwatcher out of you yet.”
I don’t think so, dear. And anyway, the correct term is birder.
Which is all a roundabout way of announcing that after hitting the refresh button too many times for a couple of days, and reading the first few sentences of several books but just not being able to concentrate on them, I have found the next book I want to read for my challenge: “A Supremely Bad Idea – Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All.”