No doubt this has happened to you: you mention a book you’ve recently read and loved, and your interlocutor immediately blurts out, “Oh, I just love reading too, but I don’t have time.”
Usually, in subsequent conversation they prove themselves liars. Repeated references to TV shows and YouTube videos start to add up, and you realize that your friend watches two to four hours of gimcrack imagery on various screens each night, from soap operas and sports to wry hipster self-congratulation to the various pontificating suits and cleavages of the infotainment complexes…. Well, fine then, but those aren’t required viewing. Folks choose to view them, and generally do so because it is the easiest way to fill up the existential void, requiring only the dullest of passive input.
I’ve actually interviewed folks close to me about their viewing habits, and of course there are rigorous formal surveys of the same. Many people spend most of their free time flattening their asses as they stare at screens these days. It’s a damn shame, but it’s a fact.
Reading, rewarding as it generally is, remains a form of work: the show is constructed in your bain, with you as director, stage crew, and cast. As we all know, work builds strength, but it requires, well, actual activity. That’s another and related sad fact.
If, like me, you also write, and the affliction becomes evident, you hear the party line with even greater emphasis: “I just don’t have time to read!” Of course, they fear you will ask them to read your book. (I try not to do that. I have a sufficiently gratifying readership among literary magazines–or at least their editors–so I don’t impose on friends. )
Let me apostrophize our phantom interlocutor here: “Just shut up! Don’t tell me how much you love reading; tell me about a book you’ve read! And if you don’t read, don’t pretend it’s because you don’t have time. You do. No brownie points for you; the road to hell has enough paving stones to outlast eternity.”
Of course I don’t actually say this to folks. I just don’t count them as readers. There are plenty of us as it is. Even the small screens of the laptop-and-phone communities are filled with folks who talk about the books they’ve actually read. And I say “talk,” but of course the conversations are in print. Interest in literature is growing, and bookstores are multiplying again after a frightful decline.
Don’t let the phonies wear down your spirit with their specious claims to social approbation. They’re only fooling themselves. Maybe the best thing you can do is to give them a short, exciting book you’ve read that you can recommend with honest enthusiasm.
After all, there’s no finer way to fill up that old existential void, if you ask me. So offer the gift. The rest is up to them.
Just don’t believe them when they talk about reading, but not about books.