Some days I wake up in the morning and tell myself, that today, I’ll do it. I’ll be productive. I will finally get to reading the books I told myself I was planning on reading.
I look at them. They stare back at me. With their perfect spines, their unread words, their all encompassing beauty. I look away. I don’t want them to see my shame. I don’t want them to see my guilt. But it’s always there, lingering, in the back of my mind.
When I was 13, reading was natural. It was just something that I did, I didn’t think about it. I yearned to go to Liberty Books, the main bookstore in Karachi. I would wait to get home from school just to finish reading whatever book I was at the time. It was a compulsive need, and desire.
When I was 21, it became harder. I was studying Literature and Creative Writing in university. That involved a lot of reading. Reading became necessary then. It wasn’t about pleasure. It wasn’t about taking a break. I had to read those 300 pages for Monday, I had to read that novel before spring break. That’s just how it was. I was drowning in Chaucer and Milton, in words that were so far from my own. It wasn’t easy. But it wasn’t supposed to be. However, even at that age, I would find that one odd weekend to just lie down, unwind and read something that I had primarily chosen for myself. Something that didn’t have a cause and effect, something that I wouldn’t be tested on.
Here I am, three years later. Collecting and building on my library of books. I look at my shelf, which climbs from floor to ceiling on one wall of my room. It’s endless and encapsulating of all the childhoods I’ve lived, all the adventures I’ve been on, and all the pain, heartbreak I’ve felt. My life, in fiction.
I go upstairs to my loft, which I had high hopes of turning into a library. It’s filled with boxes of books. There is one lone shelf, filled with my grandfather’s books. Sometimes, I run my hands across them while passing by to feel a connection to him. Sometimes, I open them and read the annotations he had made. I run my fingers over the yellowed pages and smudged words, over dates I never lived through, over a vernacular that faded with the passing of time.
I look at my bedside table. It houses all the un-opened books. But I don’t read them. All the books that I said I would. All the books I bought to inspire myself, to instill that same burning passion. It’s fading. And I’m afraid. These days, I read, of course. I scroll through articles over and over again, getting bite-sized readings. I read for the classes I’m teaching; short stories that I’ve read and re-read. But more than that, I watch. When I get home, I just want to lie there, in a cocoon and let bingewatching take me away. It’s just that time moves too quickly. I watch some Netflix, decide what to wear for work, do some work. Because there is always more work to do. It never ends. It just falls from one day to the next.
It’s ironic because reading is still the one thing that makes me feel better when I’ve had a bad day, so why can’t I give it time?
Living in a city that thrives on movement makes it difficult to slow down. Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to take a break. Maybe that’s why I’m more keen on Netflix, because at least with that, I can still carry on with my day. My world does not stop spinning with Netflix and yet I still rely upon it. I crave it like I once craved reading.
As I write this, I breathe. One. Two. Three. Maybe today I will finally read a book.