Taking Stock

2014 is just about in the books. At the beginning of the year I, uncharacteristically, made New Year resolutions – something I find unseemly for whatever odd reason.

I decided last January that I would do the following:

1. Shed some pounds and live healthier (hmmm, not like that’s very original)
2. Read more – specifically, 12 books over the year
3. Blog more, at least once a month

In the spirit of making a resolution, I think it requires going back and evaluating how well you did. Otherwise, what’s the point – right?
So I did OK, maybe better than OK. As of yesterday, I’m down 35 pounds from the beginning of last year. More importantly, I’m in far better shape! I regularly run double digit miles, completed a half marathon, and (as my wife likes to say) am on the cusp of having 6 pack abs (5 ½ or so…)

Blogging, I wrote 18 articles (not including this one) over the year. I admit, my passion for blogging has diminished over the years. Of course, I still have my opinions and I still enjoy articulating them, but the number of people that take time out of their busy days to read my rants has significantly decreased. Most times, I write for the sake of writing – a way to organize, or hone, my thoughts on a particular subject. It serves a purpose, but in terms of influencing an opinion it fails miserably.

Reading. I’ve long been an avid reader; however, I’ve noticed over the last several years that I read less and less. The Atlantic Monthly ran an article on this idea back in 2008 under the title Is Google Making Us Stupid? Essentially, the internet has “rewired” our brains to finding fast answers to questions – limiting our ability to concentrate on one thing over an extended period of time – like reading a book…

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

As much as I love(d) to read, I’ve always been a slow, verbatim, reader. I don’t breeze through books. In fact, some simply become a labor of love to finish. When I find a book(s) that capture me completely, I’m transported. Such was the case with A Song of Ice and Fire. I never really connected with Steven King’s Misery until reading George R.R. Martin – I regretfully acknowledge that if the opportunity ever arises – I will hobble that man straight up and force him to finish that damn series!

As is always the case, when I finish a book that I’ve been engrossed in, I’m always left feeling empty – directionless. I cannot simply pick up another book and plow forward. I need time to absorb what I’ve just put in to my brain and sort out the emotions generated.

Such is where I’m at now, having just plowed through the final two books of the Millennium Trilogy (aka, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest). I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo over a year ago. I enjoyed it very much, but did not feel compelled to immediately jump in to the second book at the time. Despite being a slow reader, I was able to knock out the last two books in less than two weeks.

This is a long segue to admitting my failure in my reading resolution – I fell short by about half! I read Steven King’s Doctor Sleep at the beginning of the year – a great sequel to The Shining I might add! Over the summer I finished World War Z after numerous attempts to finish it previously. I also found time over the summer to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time. Then I reverted back to being too busy to read over the Fall. I was only able to read 5 of the 12 I had set out to finish.

All in all, I did pretty well with my resolutions. As I find myself approaching 50, the notion of taking stock of the previous year is more important than the actual resolutions themselves. This is not for nostalgic purposes, at least I don’t think so – more about an introspective accounting. Time to take stock of the year passed and plan for the year ahead.

So, with this in mind – I need to make some 2015 resolutions.

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