Reading is hard… And isn’t that the truth?
It’s hard enough to move your eyeballs from left to right and then back to left again a million times – but also use your brain? That’s quite a tall order.
For me, reading is like working out – I know I should do it, I know it’s good for my body and my brain and will probably make me a more well-rounded person, and I even enjoy it once I get going getting on with things. But in the end it’s the 5% activation energy that gets me. Okay, it’s more like 20% activation energy. I’m pretty sure it’s 20% easier to open my laptop and command-T to NFL mic videos on YouTube than it is to open a book and find that one chapter to re-read for the millionth time – Because let’s be real, I don’t even remember what’s going on at this point in the story.
I feel like I should put a disclaimer here. I actually read – it’s one of my absolute favorite things to do with my free time.
But what I’m trying to say is, I feel you. Reading can be completely unappealing, especially when it’s so much easier to stare numbly at beautiful people doing their funny/hilarious/dramatic beautiful people things on the other side of the digital window in your pocket.
But my argument is not yours ought to read – that’s what you have to.
The statistics on mental health and anxiety are boring, but you know what isn’t boring? Feeling them. The insane deluge of information that I consume every morning is subtly overwhelming, like a loud buzz that is generally acceptable but after a while starts to feel like chainsaws on your brain.
Enter my unfortunate morning routine: After responding to a few different texts (a friend or two tells me a funny story, asks about my plans, etc.), I skim through three New York Times newsletter links (sad news, happy news) , controversial news) before consulting my beautifully color-coordinated Google Calendar for what to do today. Then I scroll through Instagram for five minutes. Even typing this out makes me feel a little annoyed.
We are a population bombarded with soundbites and snapshots of this very large world whizzing around in circles at about 1,000 miles an hour (I just Googled that). It’s no wonder upper-middle-class self-care vibes are taking over the world. Meditation, face masks, yoga, eating healthy, waking up early, “That girl.” The works.
I can only speak from my own personal experience here, but I’ve found that the more I put my hope in things like self-care and a healthy lifestyle, the more frustrated and melancholic I become. It just doesn’t deliver.
The more conscious I am of purposefully relaxing, the less I experience true rest. So I propose a new form of self-care – one where you take care of yourself by giving yourself a break… from yourself. After all, you are the one person you will never escape. (This is going to be very meta!)
And that brings us back to… You guessed it: reading.
The act of reading forces you to direct your thoughts outward—out of yourself and into a story, idea, character, or intellectual thought. You know the saying, “you are what you eat?” Well, I read a book recently that posited the idea that “you are what you consume” – and by that I mean the things you fill your mind with (books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc. .) has a significant influence on your thoughts, which inform your actions, which determine your habits, and ultimately shape your character. This can be exciting or terrifying, depending on what kind of glass of water you are.
The good news is, you get to choose what you want to fill your brain with – and the media you use.
I think reading is a particularly magical experience simply because it takes so long. The sheer length of time it takes to read a book means you have time to naturally consider certain ideas or themes. Often these ideas become a cool lens through which to see the world. Reading gives you space to think, to be curious about life, relationships, science fiction concepts – whatever suits you. One of my colleagues is currently reading a book on restaurant management. For fun. Weird, I know.
Another cool thing about reading is that it stands in stark contrast to visual media. It’s a cute way to take a break from the constant bombardment of streams of photos and videos. And I have to admit that reading reminds me not to be so shallow or conscious of my own appearance. Books know that there is so much more to a person than what they look like.
So take a break from yourself and the crazy world we live in.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.