Reading is hard … And isn’t that the truth?
Moving your eyeballs from left to right and then back over to the left again a million times over is hard enough — but using your brain too? That’s kind of a tall order.
To 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 human, and I even enjoy it once I get into the swing of things. But at the end of the day, it’s that 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’d up videos on YouTube than it is to crack open a book and find that one chapter that I have to re-read for the millionth time — because let’s be real, I can’t even remember what’s going on at this point in the story.
I feel like I should put a disclaimer here. I actually do 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 utterly unappealing, especially when it’s so much easier to stare numbly at beautiful people doing their fun/funny/dramatic beautiful people things on the other side of the digital window in your pocket.
But my argument isn’t that you should read — it’s that you need to.
The statistics on mental health and anxiety are boring, but you know what’s not boring? Feeling them. The crazy deluge of information that I consume every morning is subtly overwhelming, like a high-pitched buzz that is generally tolerable but after a while starts to feel like chainsaws on your brain.
Enter my unfortunate morning routine: After responding to a couple of different text messages (a friend or two telling me a funny story, asking 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 I’m supposed to do today. I then scroll through Instagram for like five minutes. Even writing this out makes me feel kind of icky.
We are a population assaulted by sound bites and snapshots about this very big world that hurtles around in circles at roughly 1,000 miles per hour (I just Googled that). It’s no wonder that 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 to 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 genuine rest. So I propose a new kind of self-care — one in which you care for yourself by giving yourself a break … from yourself. After all, you are the one person you will never escape. (This is getting 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 purported the idea that “you are what you consume” — and by that, I mean that the things you fill your mind with (books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc.) have a significant impact on your thoughts, which inform your actions, which determine your habits and eventually, shape your character. This can be exciting or scary, depending on what kind of glass of water you are.
The good news is, you get to pick what to fill your brain with — and the modes of media you consume.
I find that reading is a particularly magical experience simply because it takes so long. The sheer duration it takes to read a book means that you’ll have time to naturally mull over 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 your fancy. A coworker of mine is currently reading a book about restaurant management. For fun. Weird, I know.
Another cool thing about reading is that it stands in stark contrast with visual media. It’s a sweet way to catch a break from the constant bombardment of stream of images and videos. And I must admit, reading reminds me to not be so shallow or conscious of my own appearance. Books know that there’s so much more to a person than what they look like.
So, go take a brain break from yourself and the crazy world we live in.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at email@example.com.