I've always considered myself to be a reader, but over the past two years or so, I've realized that, besides textbooks and assignments for school, the most in-depth items I typically ever read are articles on Thought Catalog or Huffington Post or someone's blog, or, in the alternative, magazines. Often what I actually read is so light and devoid of real content that it's basically nothing but junk food for the mind. Our culture of instant access to any information via the Internet makes it very possible to get our brains to the point where we can only digest so much information at a time. And it has to be quick, easily digested, and instantly gratifying. And I realized that something rather tragic was happening: I didn't really know how to READ anymore. How to sit down with a hard copy of a book of any kind and get lost in it.
And there were so many things I was missing because of it: the joy of staying up half the night because you just have to read "one more chapter." The smell and feel and solidness of a book in your hands. The fun of getting lost in a story, or, in the case of non-fiction books, the fun of learning 100 things you didn't know before.
Here's the thing: smart people read real stuff. Period. If you want to truly consider yourself an intelligent person, you need to read. If you're not a reader, your brain is probably begging you to become one. There's a wealth of knowledge you choose to forgo if you don't read, and that in itself is very sad. Also, if you fancy yourself a writer but don't read, you have NO raw material to work with. The more I read, the more I can experiment with imitating and mixing the writing styles of different authors I like. And the wider variety of books you read, the more you can take in the practical wisdom of a whole lot of people who have had life experiences you haven't had and be able to learn from them.
This past week, I got mad at myself about the whole "I don't really read anymore" situation. Ever since I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was to sit down with a book and read to my heart's content, and I've all but lost the ability to focus long enough to do that. I believe that these are real structural changes that occur in the brain because of too much easy access to sound bites of information on the Internet--we lose the ability to focus on anything hard for a long period of time. And I'm determined to change all that. After I got done with class every day this past week, I read for about an hour before getting started on the rest of my work, and then some more before I went to bed. And it was SO satisfying, and was making me crave reading again. So I now have a whole stack of books from the public library to plow through over the next few weeks. And I'm getting more books put on hold for me to pick up later. The more you read, the more you want to read, and the more quickly you can undo the damage caused by months or years of not being a reader.
And I've decided to stop making my other classic excuse: I don't have time. Granted, some days I simply don't have time on that particular day for any non-school-related reading. But I can tell you that there's never a whole week that goes by in which I can't carve out some quality time for reading. You have time for more than you think. In the past three days, I've "had time" to do a ton of writing, to go to a music festival, to go out for dinner with a friend, to watch a lot of Netflix, to go to church, to take a long Sunday afternoon nap, and you get the idea. You do have time, you just have to find it. Or make it.
And it doesn't just have to be an actual book in your hands. Kindle works, if that's your thing. Audio books work. Whatever gets you absorbing material more substantive than Facebook and your favorite blog. Along those lines, I want to start listening to more substantive material too--like listening to sermons from my favorite pastors or TED talks when I go to the gym (pending my purchase of a real phone that has Internet access, something that, along with cable/ Instagram/ Twitter/ etc., I've never actually had).
So anyway, this is my plea to the average person: read more books!