How medicine killed my reading bug

Richard German

From as early as I can remember, I loved reading. Many of my early memories are associated with books. I always had a predilection for non-fiction, and my fiction tastes ran primarily to science fiction. Through my early and mid-teenage years the love affair with books continued, despite the predations of School Cert, University Entrance and Bursary.

But then I achieved my teenage ambition of gaining entry to medical school…

Then, as now, the content to be absorbed was vast. Reading became very targeted, and almost never-ending: no matter how much I read, there was always more. Trying to move information from the page into knowledge stored in ready-access memory seemed almost overwhelming.

Over those 5 ½ years of medical school—I left in my final year, prior to graduation—my enjoyment of reading left me. My nearly twenty year love affair with the printed word was over. Not that I stopped reading completely over the succeeding decades, but I no longer experienced the sheer joy of a stimulated imagination, of learning new things about the world.

E-readers became a thing. I thought that perhaps my kindle app on my iPad would resurrect that love of reading. And though I loved the technology—I’ve always been a bit of a geek too—it didn’t work. I bought—or should I say leased—quite a few books from Amazon and its like, but it was a somewhat sterile experience. Words on a screen didn’t capture for me the excitement of the printed word, with its multifaceted experience. And, again, it was too much like work. I have to read words on a screen for much of my working day. So I went back to ‘real’ books, but found that life in the second decade of the 21st century offered far too many distractions. I even found myself resenting time spent with books for personal pleasure or knowledge. The irony of being a librarian was not lost on me here!

As I moved into my sixth decade, I thought that I had forever lost that childhood experience, along with so much else of those ‘innocent’ years. I thought that my lean diet of the odd book every few months would be all that I would have to sustain me, as it had for over three decades.

But then something happened. A friend of mine lent me two works of poetry: Michael Ondaatje’s The Cinnamon Peeler and Billy Collins’ Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes. Poetry had never been something that I read—but something clicked. The interplay of words. The stirrings of imagination.

Only time will tell if this is the start of my own personal reading renaissance. But whatever it is, I’m enjoying it.

Richard German: Richard German is a medical librarian at the Health Sciences Library, University of Otago, Dunedin.

For more on this topic on Corpus, see Medicine and the novel, Navigating the entangled and infuriatingly intricate world, and Start at once a bedtime library.

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