Confessions of an author who barely reads books any more
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Confessions of an author who barely reads books any more

I own four Kindles, a Nook and three Kobos, including the waterproof model (which is awesome when you go to the beach, thanks for asking).

Still, I admit I may have a little problem.

A Kindle, propped up by whatever those things on the left are.

A Kindle, propped up by whatever those things on the left are.Credit:File

In addition to these dedicated single-use reading devices, I’ve probably got over a dozen book-reading apps on various iPhones and fondle slabs.

Thing is though, I’m not really a full-time reader any more.

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Not like I used be, before the gravitational pull of Planet Parenthood sucked me in and all of my free time burned up on descent.

So it was a gamble, buying my friend Steve Stirling’s latest novel, Black Chamber, and an even bigger gamble buying it in hard copy.

A tree had to die. I had to pay more. The tragedies could hardly pile up any higher if I marched my armies into the Russian winter and all the ring pulls on our frozen cans of pudding broke off.

My book shelves are currently full of unread books, purchased not so much with the intent of carving out long hours to enjoy a deep dive into these imagined worlds than as a promise to myself that maybe one day I’d have five minutes spare to even think about doing so.

It would be easy to complain that so much gets in the way, but honestly, I don’t think it does.

I have just as much time for reading as I did before; 24 hours a day minus however many hours I sleep.

Everything else is bullshit and television.

In fact, I think we increasingly watch TV the way we used to read books — in long, concentrated stretches now labelled as binges.

We’ll invest 10 or 12 hours in mainlining every episode of something new on Netflix or Stan, but we baulk at spending more than five minutes on written narrative.

TLDR. I’m not judging. I’m confessing.

As much as I was looking forward to reading Steve’s latest — an alternate history of World War I — it was hard to even start.

There was the enormous never-ending dumpster fire of Twitter.

The sick, vertigo of falling into the Book of Face.

The latest zombie shooter for my iPhone (Into The Dead 2, which is apocalyptically good).

Even the things that could be seen as a net positive — browsing a news app, reading actual journalism — they were all designed to hit my synapses with regular doses of sweet, sweet serotonin, the most addictive of all the neurotransmitters.

Even TV does this now, and has since the long ago days of Melrose Place.

But Matthew Reilly notwithstanding, books don’t.

They are less arcade shooter than immersive VR.

I’ll admit the first time I tried to read Black Chamber I failed after five minutes, tempted by the pull of a nearby iPad. But later, having removed all electronic temptations, I picked the book up again and made myself sit and read. Slowly at first, and even self-consciously.

But after eight or nine pages the magic of the story, of any well told story, kicked in and I was away.

It was a feeling of … relief. I had escaped at last.

So many of our modern addictions make us miserable that it felt like a palliative easing to actively unplug from the fire hose and imagine myself into another world. It reminded me of how much I used to enjoy those escapes.

If you get a chance, my advice to you is to begin reading heavily.

John Birmingham is a columnist and blogger for the Brisbane Times. He is also an award winning magazine writer and the author of Leviathan, the Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, which won the National Award for Non-Fiction. He amuses himself in his down time by writing novels which improve with altitude.