A book is there for you when no one else is. It may sound sentimental, but such is our inner, intellectual lives. Reading can calm a bad mood, produce empathy, make you laugh, and make you think.
Time spent reading is time well spent. One does not regret reading, just as one does not regret going outside for a walk. They are both “pure” activities, calm for the soul; both of which incidentally help to exercise the creative muscles. Reading and going for a stroll serve to inspire us in a way that does not occur in our otherwise distracted lives.
In the school where I teach, we have independent reading time in English class. That is a contentious issue, but putting that to the side, there’s no harm in it. On one stressful day, when my nerves were frayed, we engaged in this silent reading as a class. Once when we were done, I asked one of my students,
“Doesn’t reading make you feel better?”
She simply turned in her chair towards me and nodded. And it wasn’t as though this was a student who might have been identified as a “star” or the best student in the class. She was in that moment merely a fellow human being sharing in a virtuous activity. That is the solace of reading.
Sadly, it seems girls like reading more than boys. They don’t have the same qualms about toting around a novel with them and eagerly opening it up given the opportunity. It isn’t clear why that should be the case, that boys have become alienated from reading. It isn’t as though there is a lack of male authors in history to serve as role models. But that’s an issue for another day.
Alas, some people will never read and others can hardly understand what they’re reading. In this case, it is quite understandable why they would hate reading.
While the proliferation of text online has left many people “reading” every day, technology is the enemy of reading. That is why it’s good to designate a place where you can bring a book and leave the phone or laptop behind. A patio can be ideal. Why not designate your patio as a tech-free zone?
Technology is simply a crutch. If I’m tired, I will fall back more on looking at my phone and social media. When I’m energetic, there is not quite the same compulsion for a “hit” of technology. Easy hits of dopamine are never of long-term benefit. This is not to compare an addiction to one’s phone or social media to a drug addiction or other habits that are truly destructive. The damage of perpetual phone-checking does not seem quite so pernicious; instead, it merely chips away at your soul.
Savvy intellectuals read a lot online regardless, but the tactile experience of a physical book is qualitatively different. There is something fundamentally broken about people who read books on a device. They want to enter the world of reading but bring with them that which has destroyed it. Their bearing seems defiant as they do this, looking up from their tablet as though to say, “I am reading.”
Reading books, like eating healthy, does not necessarily provide such immediate gratification as playing with our phones, but makes us more “whole” in the long run. It takes a bit of will-power, a bit of self-discipline. You must demand reading of yourself, and steadfastly reinforce the habit.
Henry David Thoreau provides a nugget of wisdom to close out this discussion: “Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
This is our predicament in answering the question of how to spend our leisure time: Will we do something virtuous or submit to a vice? Thoreau continues, “we are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers.” The short attention span, phone-addicted, streaming service culture is alienating us more and more from our “higher nature.”
This is not to say we should be like Puritans, but we should at least experience something pure for a while before we veg out in front of the TV. I am no moralist, but I can still see there is something moral in how we choose to spend our time, if only for how it affects our spirit and our conscience.