Yom Kippur taught me I don't read so good no mores | Bleader

Yom Kippur taught me I don't read so good no mores


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The shofar (above) : Yom Kippur :: Twitter : reading these days
  • Jonathunder/Wikimedia
  • Sounding the shofar (above) : Yom Kippur :?: Twitter : reading at length
I don't really know where I got the itch to fast for Yom Kippur this year. Forgoing food and drink from sundown to sundown was always optional for me growing up since my family is about as far from practicing Judaism as Woody Allen's exes. I've fasted a handful of times, mostly when I was in high school in New York, where public school students have the Jewish high holy days off. (What's up with not giving your kids the same, Chicago Public Schools?) There was no such stimulus this year, besides that the other Jewish guys in the office were taking personal days. (What's up with not giving us the day off, Wrapports?) As in years past, the crucible was mostly what grabbed me about the religious ritual, less the prostrating before God; also I guess a stirring speech about the Holocaust by French president Fran├žois Hollande I read in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. So I did it, worrying a couple of people at the office with my zombielike state and teaching me that, despite all I read for work, I've regressed as a casual reader.

Being secular, the fasting rules I decided upon were pretty arbitrary. I'd abstain from food and water for 24 hours, which is kosher, but I wouldn't stay home from work or go to temple—both mandatory. See, I'm the guy who uploads all the Reader's articles to the Web and messes with our social networks, and it would have been a shonda for you to go an extra day without reading or hearing about the newest arts reviews, weird cocktail recipe, or Savage Love. (N. B. Read: "I didn't make the decision soon enough to plan for a vacation day.")

To make up for it, or something, I decided not to use any of the screens at home for pleasure: no laptop, TV, or iPhone. That's tough for a guy who's on Twitter maybe 11 or 12 hours a day. Reading things the old way, that's like fasting to atone for the sin of digital. (Or something.) So after work on Tuesday, I sat down with that issue of the Review and the book I'm reading for "pleasure," a really interesting, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of New York called Gotham.

Did you know president-elect Barack Obama planned on coming back to Chicago every four to six weeks to maintain a sense of normal family life? Ezra Klein told me that (subscription required) in the Review. How about this: the paradigm-changing gun control case cited by the Supreme Court in striking down Chicago's handgun ban was considered a victory by both gun rights activists and gun control activists? Georgetown law professor David Cole has lots more to say. It's pretty scary to hear that an IT tech research company found that “in the last year 90 percent of businesses had suffered at least one security breach." Super Sue Halpern got me to rethink my position on hackers. Fascinating stuff! Also: I managed to read three articles in a not-terribly dense magazine, before getting distracted by roommates. Later, I turned to my "pleasure"-reading book—all 1,100-some-odd pages of it—and picked it up for the first time in a month or so. I hadn't had time to read it, having been working/tweeting/vegging out after work for . . . too long. I wanted to atone! I plowed through page after page, section after section, a chapter or two. Around 50 pages in all, I found. That's maybe required reading for a night in high school. Sure, if I bone up a bit, spend a couple of hours a day reading books I'll get my words read per minute back up. But consider that on aggregate, I'm still reading more these days, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, than ever in my life.

I'm not the only one for whom reading at length is getting hard: Yesterday, a whole bunch of political scribes re-reported as fact a Politico article that quoted Paul Ryan calling Mitt Romney "the Stench," as in "Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.” Had the likes of Gawker and Paul Krugman just clicked through to the second page, they'd have seen an author's note alluding to satirists Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. Seems like everyone's happy to skim articles without reading deeper, or even just a few paragraphs in, looking for the nugget of news to broadcast. I wouldn't be so wary of it if so many writers weren't caught, but at least it was good to know I'm not the only one with something to atone for.

Oh shit, I hope you read this far. Look, I'm not a gray-haired Luddite here to argue the Internet's tubes are corrupting healthy reading practices (no offense to the gray-haired Luddites at the Reader), because you can learn a lot from the people you follow online; what Twitter can lack in depth it makes up for in breadth. And on the flip side, I was plenty amazed at how much I realize we create with all this technology at our disposal. I had to put off a few projects to obey my no-screen-time rule, like mixing a present for my girlfriend's birthday, sprucing up my mom's website, and sending out e-mails for an article I'm working on. Hell, tweeting is a form of composition—it's not easy crafting 140-character messages that don't bore the hell out of people. Who ever created as much as we do today?

My fear, and I hope it's rooted more in my laziness than anything else, is that spending so much time sifting through all this content is making us much better sprinters than long runners. "I'd love to read to the end of this article I just happened upon, but I have to get back to work," I find myself saying all day, leaving a fan of unfinished stories open on my browser every day. Obviously, there's an easy way to fix that situation—stop being lazy, you said you'd atoned for this, just read everything—and yet, even if it were fixed, could I have gone through it all faster when my vision wasn't saturated with liquid crystals? Am I cursed to the lexicographic equivalent of working in a bar, getting lots of little things done but nothing very long? Or am I just grumpy from not eating for a day?

Oh, and another thing I learned this Yom Kippur. You Christians? Some of you still don't seem to get it. For every genuine "I'm sorry you have to come in to work today" I got a "Should I not be eating this in front of you?" Guys, look, if there's one thing you should know about us that's clear from the whole history of Judaism, it's that we don't care what you do, we just want to be left to do our own shit in peace. Shalom.