I Wish I Could Read

man reading

To start off, the title is a bit misleading. I can read, but not very well. Actually, the real problem is comprehension. I can’t remember a damn thing.

Back when I was a younger lad, I read all the time. Typically, one book every couple of days. It didn’t matter what. Sometimes a great novel, like Grapes of Wrath, and other times a cheesy book about a Star Trek adventure. I just plain love to read. Voracious at times. When I first moved away from home I went a very long time before getting around to buying a television, because I sat on the couch and read every night and was completely happy with that.

Just an aside here, that has nothing to do with this post, other than I find it interesting. When I did get around to buying a TV, I also bought a VCR. (If you don’t know what a VCR is, go ask your parents.) Anyway, the interesting part is my VCR cost me over $500. Can you believe that now? I mean what’s a cheap DVD player cost? Forty bucks?

So enough with going off the rails. Back to what I’m struggling with – reading. As I said, my problem is comprehension…or I guess, memory. By the time I reach about 1/3 – 1/2 of a novel, I completely forget who is who, what they are doing, and what the stories about. I’ll stare at the book like I’ve never seen it before.

Stephen King wrote an excellent book called On Writing. If you are a writer, or are thinking of becoming a writer, I’ve found no better book about the craft. Get it! I don’t remember the actual number (of course) but in it King states how many books he reads a year. It’s a lot. I wish I remembered enough to tell you how many, I only remember it was no small feat. He said it was important for writer’s to be avid readers. Considering he’s been somewhat successful, I’d love to follow his advice, but I just can’t. At this current stage in my life, I can’t think of anything I find more frustrating.

This is somewhat not so new. For decades I had a hard time remembering a book once I was done. I’d forget most of what I read, but I could remember whether I liked it or not. If you asked me about a book I read and how was it, I could only tell you what I thought of it….it sucked, it was okay, it was a good read, it should win a Pulitzer…I could remember enough to tell you all that, but I couldn’t back up why I felt that way.

Well, guess what? I’m reading a book right now. For the curious, it’s Fair Game by Josh Lanyon and it’s pretty good. How am I doing reading this one? I’m doing okay, but only okay for one reason – I’m writing everything down. Not word for word, but enough to help me comprehend what it was later. As an example, here’s some of my notes from Chapter 13. **** SPOILER ALERT **** Fair warning. I’m giving away a small bit of the story, so if you plan to read it, be warned.

Elliot meets Anne in Tacoma. Anne looks bad – tired. Elliot wonders why she seems uncomfortable. He tells her he’s looking for Gordie. Anne becomes rigid. Anne assumes he’s trying to get a reaction out of her. Assuming Elliot knows, she admits she and Gordie are having an affair…and so on.

This is a very tiring way to read. I miss much of the enjoyment of the action, because I’m too busy writing. Kind of like the reason I don’t like movies with subtitles. As much as I hate doing this, it seems the only way I can follow what is going on. Writing it alone helps me to remember and comprehend, but the primary reason it’s effective is I can go back and look at what happened. Forgetting who’s who is the worst. For example, (another spoiler alert) in Chapter 16, Elliot is told that someone tried to abduct Kyle. Of course, I have no clue who the hell Kyle is, but I had my notes with me and was able to refer to them to jog my memory that Kyle is Elliot’s teaching assistant. Elliot is a college professor.

I have mixed emotions about this writing stuff down thing. On the one hand, it is great to be able to read again. I enjoy it, and it’s kind of embarrassing to tell people I’m a writer, but I never read anything. But, is it worth it? Do I want to have to write a couple of paragraphs about every chapter I read? Well, the answer to that is no, of course. Whether, or not, I continue with this method is up in the air. For now, I have no other choice. I hope down the road, I’ll come up with a better solution.

Any challenges with your reading comprehension? I’d love to hear it. I’d also like to know how you’ve overcome it, if you have. As for me, I’ve got my book, my notepad and pen in hand. Time for me to get back to the novel and find out what happens to Elliot.

8 comments on I Wish I Could Read

  1. In my case, I lost my ability to focus and pay attention, It was only after I was properly medicated that my ability to focus and concentrate came back and I was able to read. (I’ve thought about the taking notes thing, but have never tried it,) https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-qp

    1. Glad you found meds that work. I think meds are part of the problem, however they’ve worked so well for me in so many other way, I don’t want to mess around with them.

    2. I just read your post. Well done. You describe the frustration I’m going through right on target.

  2. I love to read and used to devour books and had great recall. But now I’ve been having trouble remembering some details when reading books. I have to go back to search earlier chapters to try to find the details I’m looking to retrieve. A year from when I read a book I probably couldn’t tell you what it was about at all unless it had a major impact on my life or thinking.. And when I read an article or something don’t ask me to summarize what I read for you. You are likely to get the briefest explanation ever unless I have notes to help me. It is frustrating but it’s better than it was when I was on my old meds and had ECT. I had stopped reading during that time period. I couldn’t remember *anything* unless I wrote it down. So I’m thankful for the improvement and that I can enjoy reading again. I don’t know if my meds are still the problem or if it’s a decline in cognition due to bipolar as some experts say. in any case, I have to work harder at remembering stuff. You’re not alone in this, Bradley.

    1. Wow. We really were in the same boat, weren’t we? Glad the changes you made got you reading again. I hope to be back at it again soon. Just not sure where to start.

  3. I love to read a good book. But it is very hard for me to read. I need to be captured within the first paragraph, otherwise, forget it. If I try to continue on, I have no comprehension what so ever. However, if I read something that captures me, I keep the jist of it in my head, but I can’t remember what the above paragraph said. Which is a mystery to me on how that works. I kind of have an understanding about how I can only read books that captivate me. Other than a big old DUH!, it is an ADHD attribute. We tend to hyperfocus on things that interest us. That is my problem with reading. I hyperfocus. What could be the problem with that? Nothing I suppose. But it really makes it difficult for me to read, in a way that I can’t read as much as I want, and it is very difficult for me to find the right book. I have troves of books. Some in perfectly pristine condition because I couldn’t get past the first paragraph.

    1. It’s interesting to see that others share the same struggle. I honestly thought I was an oddity. Hopefully, someday when my book is finished, I’ll be able to capture your attention right away. 🙂

    2. Me too! I also have a bad memory. It’s sad when my adult children will mention a childhood memory and I have no recollection of it. I’m only 60 so I don’t think it’s dementia. 🙂

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