“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.”
― Nora Ephron
For the past six months I’ve been exploring different areas of my life that I’d like to improve upon, in order to pursue a healthier and happier life. This month’s discussion is on reading more.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King
As Mr. King says; if you wanted to write well you should read. Everyday, and as much as you can. Behind every good writer is a trail of books, characters, worlds, and authors that have inspired and driven them to create their own work. Still, upon examining why it’s so hard for me to read more often, I’ve unearthed some interesting excuses for my staggered and stunted reading patterns.
First of all, reading is often too enjoyable. That is to say, I find a good book so engaging and distracting that I can very easily spend entire days with my nose buried in its pages. This isn’t a bad thing…except that I have children to care for, a household to run (or does it run me?), a novel to finish (four actually), blog posts to write, beta reading to do, and submissions to get out. I am ashamed to admit that my sit-down time is very limited and often I’ll give up reading time to nail down my to-do list.
The other problem, and one fairly new to the reader’s typical set of dilemmas, is the ever-present distraction of technology. I used to check my e-mail once a week. Google wasn’t a thing yet. Facebook hadn’t been invented. YouTube was non-existent. I’m not playing the crotchety old lady here, decrying the evils of the Internet. I’m ecstatic to have a universe of information at my fingertips. Whether I’m researching the Bayou system of Eastern Louisiana, learning how to renovate a 1900’s home in Maine, exploring treatments for a foreleg injury of a thoroughbred race horse, or looking up the best grain to feed a pack of Nubian goats with, the Internet provides like a beautiful cornucopia of information.
The problem is not in the convenience of its researching tools, it’s in the distracting offshoots born from these searches that spread like arachnid limbs across the web until I’m suddenly looking up restoration companies for a 1940’s O’Keefe and Merrit stove (should you re-porcelain it and re-chrome it?), or looking up the market price of wool from Angora goats (how much can I get for 24-26 microns of kid mohair, kemp free?) It’s a barrage and for someone with borderline adult ADHD like myself, I really don’t need the extra distraction.
Simply identifying and admitting to these excuses helps me to counteract them. Limiting my ‘research’ time, staying on task, and squeezing in every opportunity (including a mandatory ‘reading time’ for everyone in the household) are ways to increase my time cuddled up with other worlds of adventure.
On to the second part of what I want to talk about, which is connecting and escaping through reading.
When it comes to books I often feel as though if I’m not reading a literary masterpiece then I’m not doing anything for my brain, but that’s a false belief. Our brains, like our bodies and souls, need to play. Play leads to unfettered creativity and such creativity gives rise to solutions to real world problems. If our neurons are never challenged they cannot grow. If they are never allowed to wander into the fantastic, then they won’t ever build bridges to what was once the impossible.
The quality of what we read is also important. Reading should educate, it should encourage thought and discussion, and it should inspire. Reading should influence us and make us question our belief system either inspiring us to reaffirm our values or find ones that are better. Reading an article on the turmoil of middle eastern politics or the latest technologies available for medical advancements can spark an understanding of our world, our connections to our fellow humans, and what our future can or will be.
No book is a waste. Every article that draws my interest, quirky as it may be, is worthwhile. Reading opens worlds and minds. The written word also captures a moment in the mind of the author; a spark in the expansive ocean of human thought, like a tiny boat in the wide and relentless gray, that floats among the endlessness with resolve. Getting a glimpse of that boat, the hands that steer it, is a privilege that connects us with each other.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin
I know how hard that writer worked on the book I hold in my hands. I know how many nights they were up pacing, how many blank stares they suffered while their brains worked over and over that one perfect phrase that eluded them. Through reading I connect to another human being and to the universal truths of human suffering and joy.
In this year I will resolve to never think of reading as a back-burner pastime. I will remember that it’s quintessential to my vitality and necessary for my propensity towards compassion. It keeps me aware and informed. Reading inspires me to be better part of a world and gives rise towards positive and meaningful action.
I (all of us really) have to make it a priority. So for this month I am making reading a necessity as much as air (or coffee). In the small moments between chores, the quiet dark ones before bed, the ones that I’m stuck on a treadmill, or sitting through the kid’s karate practice, I will always have a book at hand.
I urge you, gentle reader, to do the same. Yes. Read. Read to grow. Read to learn. Read to understand and relate. Read to escape (just don’t stay there too long. The world needs you back).