I Can't Read: Peter Reveals His Secret Shame
Peter Tatara - November 20, 2006
I have a confession to make. I can't read. Alright, I can. I've mastered reading the English language and at various points in my life could also consume Spanish, Russian, and Japanese; however, while I can read -- I don't. My parents introduced me to books at an early age, and, thinking back to my childhood, I have half-hazy, golden memories of reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and The Hobbit with my mother and father. I was part of a score of book clubs both in school and at my local library and always ended up tearing through more words than anyone else. I read and read and read.
Then I got into high school. While I blew through any assigned textbook or novel, at some point all my personal desire to read evaporated. I did all my homework and finished every book that was part of any class, but I had not even the slightest hint of a want to open a book when I returned home. I was conscious of this shift. I can't say exactly when it happened, but I knew when it was complete. I wasn't happy. I wasn't proud. I didn't want to read.
I rationalized what had transpired was that my mind had associated reading with schoolwork, and after a day of reading because I had to, the last thing I wanted to do was crack open another book in the evening. This continued throughout college, too. I graduated magna cum laude, but whenever I chatted with my professors or fellow over-achievers and the topic shifted to the new David Sedaris book, I turned silent. Some of my friends knew. Most of them didn't. They recommended books to me, and I smiled and nodded and told them I'd get to it.
I'm now out of high school, out of college, and have been working in New York City for a few years. I had assumed, once I was out of the educational system -- and I was no longer force fed texts -- I'd rediscover the magic of the printed word. Nope. After a hectic day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was actively use my brain when I returned to my apartment. My first year in New York, I purposefully didn't own a television. Instead, I spent my evenings listening to National Public Radio and writing unsold screenplays. (You see, while not a reader, I'm an avid writer. Perhaps I could justify my absence of an appetite for short stories, novellas, and novels with a hunger to pen words of my own. Or, I could just want to think this to think more of myself.) However, soon, a new roommate demanded we get a TV and fancy, 1,000-channel, digital cable. Once the demon of digital cable was installed, my nights became enslaved by its glow. I tried to write -- and I did a bit -- but I had to bargain with myself for each and every moment. And for every moment I did steal away to set pen to paper, I spent hours without end recessed in my sofa watching reruns of crap I had already seen twice the night prior.
It was a futile fight.
However, the astute of you will have noticed this entire piece has been written in the past tense, meaning that perhaps something has changed. And perhaps something has. While, once a television came into my home, I did write less, I still did write, and I have four unsold screenplays I'm (to varying degrees) proud of. But, recently, I grew weary of writing screenplays that don't sell. See, as a young, talented, but tragically undiscovered writer, I sent out my scripts to scores of upstart contests and online match-making websites promising to connect new writers with Hollywood producers with deep pockets. And never saw any return. Basically, like so many others, I was being fleeced by a cruel industry existing entirely around the wallets of writers struggling to sell their first screenplay. Looking at my bank account, I was amazed by the amount of money no longer there. That's when I thought it.
Here I was in New York City, trying to sell a screenplay in Hollywood through a maze of middlemen -- none with any intention greater than growing fat through the contents of my wallet. This realization rousing me from my cathode-ray-induced stupor, I -- for the first time in some time -- was conscious not only of my situation but also of my need to make a change. And so I did.
I live in New York City, the center of the publishing world. Hell, I know people in a number of publishing houses. If I want to write, what was I doing tip-toeing toward Hollywood? The man who doesn't read books decided to write one.
So, here I am, on the precipice of penning a novel. But, having not read a book in years, I admit I've forgotten what novels look like -- aside from some hundred pages filled with words. To remedy this, I'm in the middle of reading my first book since I picked up The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy when I was 13. The book? Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D, bought for me by my girlfriend a number of months ago. She clucked when she bought it, betting I'd never actually read it. Looks like she owes me D novels two through 18.
As I started Vampire Hunter D, I was afraid. It was several hundred pages long. How many months would it take me to wrap it up? Would I be an old man before I concluded the volume? Well, I've been reading D for a week now on my ride to and from work, and I'm about halfway through it. This ain't scary. More, I like it. D's not the world's most radiant literary jewel, but it's just what I need to reintroduce myself to reading the written word.
Where will I go from here? I don't know, I've got a to-read list ten years long. Plus, once I wrap up D, my image of exactly what a novel is refreshed, I'm going to throw down 100,000 words of my own. And while, sure, the temptation of television's still going to be there, the temptation of selling a (manu)script of my own trumps the allure of cable's lewd caress.
Hopefully, my manuscript's better written than this.