I was a natural reader. I’d got the knack by the time I started school and just sort of carried on – working my way through the local library and then saving up pocket money to buy books. Five shillings would get you a children’s classic (Black Beauty, Treasure Island, What Katy Did) from Boots, although my unguided choices meant that there were odd gaps – I never picked a a Puffin or read Swallows and Amazons or The Famous Five or Winnie the Pooh.
I read through my teenage years as only teenagers do – Dickens, Hardy, Dostoevsky.
I read as an adult, eventually entering the world of competitive book reviewing on Amazon. I’ve even been known to devour The Moonstone at a sitting (twice).
Then my eyes went wonky. Not only could I not read, but I could hardly bear to enter a bookshop. And although things have improved, I seem to have lost the knack – I just don’t have that experience of being “in the zone”.
People have made helpful suggestions.
“Have you thought about going to an optician?” (True)
“Have you thought about audio books?”
Sometimes, at Christmas, I would borrow an audio book from the Central Library’s limited selection, but could never quite get the knack. I would start listening only to somehow zone out until I heard the message to change the CD and realise that I hadn’t heard a word. And, worst of all, they were abridged.
But we have now entered a golden age of audio books and this week, with a little friendly encouragement, I signed up for a free trial of Audible (having failed with the public library’s online offering).
My choice is Beyond Black by Hilary Mantell. I listen via a bluetooth speaker at home or over earphones whilst walking or, as yesterday, sitting in the Botanic Gardens with a sandwich and a robin for company.
I still get that zoning out problem and have to go back and listen again to what I’ve missed. Your brain obviously processes things differently to when you’re hoovering up words from the printed page – I’m not sure that you internalise it in the same way, but maybe it’s just a question of getting the knack of being in the audio zone.