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The 50-Book Challenge

Back in 2008, in a widely-discussed article for The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr argued that the Internet was rewiring our brains. He wrote:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

He later expanded his argument in the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. I found his argument very convincing, for I was experiencing the same phenomena when I was trying to read, and it was alarming. Once a voracious reader, I now found it increasingly difficult to immerse myself in a story.

The Covid-19 pandemic, with its enforced isolation, seemed like the perfect opportunity to slow my brain down and recapture some reading time. But if anything, my inability to concentrate became worse, not better, during the pandemic . Instead of reading, I found myself pacing the room or watching endless South Korean television dramas on Netflix. (Thirty-three at last count). Perhaps it was not just the Internet that was to blame here. Something else was going on. Some psychologists have suggested that the anxiety that the pandemic has induced has also impeded our ability to concentrate, further complicating the problem.

Nevertheless, with no end to the pandemic in sight (at least not in Canada), I resolved to set myself a challenge: I would read fifty books before the end of 2021. That would mean reading about seven a month, since I am now halfway through the year. One hundred books, though a nice round number, seemed too ambitious and doomed to failure, but fifty I could probably manage. I have piles of books lying around the house, books I purchased because they looked interesting, books I always meant to read when I had the time. Well, now I have the time, so let's get to it.


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