A novelist friend laughingly told me about getting lost a while back while reading -- but not lost in the book. Lost outside of it. She found a reference to the Seven Years' War and because she wasn't sure what that conflict was (it pitted most of Europe's major powers against each other from 1756-63), she set her book down and went to her Mac to Google it.
Online, she jumped from one intriguing website to another, ranging further and further afield from the French and Indian War, to Frederick the Great, then Prussian history, on to Bismarck a century later. Suddenly she realized she had completely forgotten her book: "Lev, I was gone for an hour and a half!"
I'd had similar experiences, and we talked about how we often interrupted ourselves now while reading, not in ordinary ways -- to get some coffee, let the dogs out, go to the john, even check email -- but in ways directly connected to the book. Something in it piqued our curiosity and we had to stop reading, or felt we had to. The days of sinking into a book in happy oblivion of the world around us had almost vanished. Those were days we had grown up with and enjoyed even into adulthood, but they seemed infrequent.
We weren't sure whether this was due to aging, our busy lives wearing on us, or the fragmented consciousness supposedly bred by web browsing -- or all of these.
One thing we agreed on is that book lovers have it easier now than ever before, thanks to being able to download a book any time, anywhere. But reading itself is getting harder. We've both shifted to reading more and more books on our iPads as opposed to the old-fashioned way. Now, we don't even have to move from where we are to leave the book we're in the middle of. We used to feel anchored by books; too often now, we're set adrift.
Excerpted from Book Lust!, a collection of essays for book lovers of all kinds.