I Stopped Reading For a Year (2023)

And I thought I would lose my words. I did not read
books nor magazines, nor the subtitles on TV
shows. I ignored texts and watched recipe videos. I
sat by the mangrove and heard cicadas, their buzz
deafening after the monsoon. I lost myself in lovers’
gossip that they whispered between shifts. I thought
I’d forget “proclivity”, “variegated” and
“ambivalence” but realised I didn’t need them. I left
paragraphs behind because we didn’t speak them; I
stutter when I teach anyway. Are those pauses
periods or commas? Why did I ever read to begin
with? The Prophet was illiterate, and neither did he
write. He spoke the divine revelations as his
followers wrote them on palm leaves and camel
bones. Ananta’s Buru Quartet was narrated to
fellow prisoners, who brought the stories when they
left exile. So I narrate to my brother, who types it
and reads it back to me. I listen for words that sing,
for consonants that ring. Has text ever killed
someone? Are death sentences written down?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that you’re reading
this, but I can no longer run away. Like many, I
found comfort in the written word: I can stop
reading if it gets too hard. I threw away your letters.
I read the sweet ones again and the bitter ones
can’t echo in my head. I didn’t stop by choice, but
my words can no longer turn into ash.

About this work

Published in HOAX issue 7
I Stopped Reading for a Year considers what power the written word has. What do you lose and gain after reading? What does Ibrahim, as a writer, use the written word for? And how does being able to stop and start reading at any time become part of how we deal with our issues, traumas and troubles?

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