Chris Johnson: Learning to read at 35,000 feet

August 18, 2013 

I can't read.

Whew! Glad I was able to finally get that off my chest, along with this weird 4-inch gray hair. And I'm sure that (not the hair but knowing I can't read) pleases some of my haters: "Well, you can't write, either! Ha!"

But I don't mean I can't sound out words and such or make out important correspondence such as "Dear Mr. Johnson, your account is now 60 pays past due" and stuff like that.

What I mean is that I can't enjoy curling up with a book like most folks. I'd much rather write than read, even if I don't want to read what I write. Cue haters: "Yeah! We don't either!" (Sorry to keep talking about haters, but they're my most loyal readers, so I gotta throw them a bone sometimes.)

I think its all my years on the newspaper's copy desk that made me not enjoy reading. How many county commission and city council stories can you read before you want to gouge your eyes out? And after editing about 867 stories about new hope for peace in the Mideast (yeah, that'll happen), you start to glaze over. They should write just one more story ever about the Mideast peace process, and it should be headlined "Ain't never gonna happen."

Or maybe it was the summer I got punished for bad grades, and my dad made me read books to earn credits for watching television. I had to go through Mark Twain to get to Marcia Brady, and I began to equate reading with work instead of enjoyment. Although, if more folks could write like Mr. Twain, I'd give up TV.

But I'm committed to reading once again. Sure, I've fought my way through a good many books over the years, but now I need to be able to really sink myself into them. I'm about to hop on a plane for 11 hours. And there's going to be a very large talkative man sitting next to me. Well, I don't have that confirmed, but experience tells me that's a very strong possibility (more like absolute). So I'm gonna need a book to have an excuse not to talk -- or to knock him out when no one's looking.

I'm going to Africa to do a little work. (No, you're not the only one who's shocked.) And it takes a little while to get there because there is a huge pond between here and there. I've gotta have a way to kill the time, so I've purchased a couple of books to get me through the plane ride.

Of course, my flight leaves New York at 9 p.m., so it'll be dark, which means I could sleep. Actually, that means normal people could sleep. I'm not normal, and I can't sleep on a plane. Sure I can zone out and stare into space -- or as they used to call it during my copy desk days, "Chris working" -- but you can only pull that off for a few hours or 10, not 11.

Besides, if I were to fall asleep, I might find myself accidentally snuggling with the big, hairy, talkative fellow next to me. Or, worse, drooling on him and finding myself trying to read through a black eye.

So, while all these folks are sleeping and snoring and drooling, I'll curl up with a novel and a biography. And if I get through them, maybe it'll be like sixth grade and I'll get to reward myself with some TV.

Hmm, I wonder if they've got Marcia Brady in Ghana.

-- Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at

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