Does anybody else ever look up from their seven episode Fullmetal Alchemist binge, realize that it’s half past 5:00 and you haven’t read anything at all today? Just me? How about getting home from work, cooking dinner, putting your feet up in front of the tv and avoiding the judgmental gaze of your bookshelf? Do you just “not read anymore” and not know why?
Before I started working on Out, I struggled to carve time out of my day to write every day, let alone read. It feels silly to say that, though, because of course, I read every day. I read tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, text messages, online articles, a mountain of emails. The list goes on and on and on. As I’m sure it does for millions of us. We read every single day, processing information in and sifting through it to decide what’s pertinent. But I believe that we get so caught up in all of our reading and writing being efficient and purposeful as we grow up that we forget to enjoy reading frivolous literature.
Yes, I’m sure that Shakespeare and Chaucer would be aghast at the thought that someone might call literature frivolous. But that’s what it is! When you’ve worked an 18-hour shift and really just want to come home and eat and sleep, no one can blame you for not using an hour of your life every day to read. You could and should be sleeping. It’s not a necessity. Leisure reading is just that: leisure. But as children, we have to read for homework, read for this, read to study that. And from then on, we’re trained to only read the bare minimum to get us to whatever task is next. And promptly forget everything we’ve read for the next project.
As a kid, I would rush to the Boys and Girls Club after school and fly through my homework so I could reward myself with hours of reading time in the Learning Center. I couldn’t wait to sink into a bean bag and dive into a world. When did it become so easy for me to trade words on pages for empty, buzzing television screens?
Part of me knows that the answer lies in the obvious: it’s so much easier to turn on the television and disappear into a show or a movie that I’ve seen a thousand times. Pop on an episode of Law and Order: SVU and hum along with the show’s theme song. Find an episode of Supernatural that makes you laugh/cry/whatever vague mood you’re feeling. There’s less commitment to watching television than there is to reading. With reading, you have to focus. On the words, on the story, on the page that came before the one you’re on, and on the pages that come next. Reading requires dedication and attention. You can’t very well sit down and read a book in the same way that you turn on the television and zone out behind your cell phone for another round of Candy Crush.
When we give ourselves to work or do anything else that requires our attention, it becomes a relief to come home and very pointedly not focus on something. Which is why I believe the older we get, the less we read. Instead of coming back to focus on something else, all we want to do is curl up with a beer and veg out on the couch. For those of you who get home and work out or cook dinner or crochet, this article is not for you. Clearly, you have the extra focus to dedicate to other tasks. So my question for you is this: why aren’t you reading?
To everyone else, my question is: what can you do to give yourself more time to focus on reading? I know that I can start by unplugging from the television every now and then. Even when in the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are especially heinous. I know that their stories will always be there, ready for when my mind is tired and I need relief from exercising the muscle. And sure, on some level, books will always be there. But will your eyesight? Your passion for the words on the page? Your time?
Why haven’t you read today?