Dear reader, thank you for viewing the words that I’ve typed. Now that I have your attention, please do not be a part of the roughly 27% of American adults who did not read or listen to even a part of a book this year.
Common excuses as to why you may have a hard time finishing this sentence or turning to the next page of your book include the rise in technology that has shifted our value of entertainment or the fact that you frankly do not have the time nor willpower to make it to the final punctuation mark. Words have transcended from the page and been translated to pixels — some of which you are engaging with right now. It’s just reality that there’s a good chance I’ve lost you by this sentence. If I still have you reading, there is a theory that supposedly explains your reduced attention span and the willingness of your eyes to remain fixated to my words: that your attention span is less than that of a goldfish. This aquatic association is, in fact, a myth not corroborated by science, and is no excuse as to why you cannot sit down with a book for an extended amount of time or even finish this article.
As communicative and visually stimulated humans (not goldfish), we have a desire to be entertained. Many find themselves sharing their favorite new Netflix series, but they could just as easily be sharing their connection to their favorite chapters or characters. After all, no research suggests that watching “Bridgerton” will make you live longer or improve your memory as opposed to if you read the series.
Yet finding love for books is a connection that requires work — just like any relationship. We have preferences and dislikes, we get bored and we have different paths. Instead of sitting around waiting for love at first sight, simply walking into a bookstore or sitting down in a library may be the right approach to being a book lover either again or for the first time.
Lucky for you, Ann Arbor is home to some of the best independent bookstores turned meeting spots for your literary love affair, regardless of your background or past relationships with books.
I was someone who, at one point, was able to read one book each day. The passion was there, and I genuinely cared about words. This care and dedication to words slowly faded with time, though, which prevented the pages from turning and even the book from making it off the shelf. I attributed this lag to a lack of time but, in reality, my time was simply misplaced. We choose what keeps us entertained and how we spend our free time. With that, we can choose to stimulate our minds and imaginations equally as we do our eyes, choosing words in place of screen time. Being attentive is a skill and is not equal for everyone, but it is a skill that we should seek to foster, as it has positive implications beyond the page.
It was opening the door to Literati’s bookstore on the corner of East Washington Street that made me reevaluate how I spend my free time and decide to take back my attention span. The exposed spines and spread of color that fills the shelves can be intimidating — especially for someone trying to find the passion again. The intimidation factor does not have to be present so long as we are attentive to the end goal — that attentiveness, of course, being longer than that of a goldfish. Upon entering there is a quiet sense of community, for although patrons wander the stacks in silence, it is a welcoming silence.
Literacy is a privilege, and therefore those who can read and write can also imagine and learn in a capacity that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There is a reason why words are equated with power, according to our world’s wisest. Nineteen percent of adults in the U.S. are reported to be in the lowest level of literacy, with only 48% in the highest, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Sitting down and reading a book is a step towards finding your personal power and achieving a higher level of literacy, no matter your speed nor your level. Mind stimulation is not confined to a screen nor to someone’s age. Finding this power and becoming a book lover instead of a book avoider is possible so long that you recognize the positive effect it can have on you and the realization that you are not, in fact, a goldfish. Thank you for reading to the end of this article — maybe you can start thinking about what to read next.
Julia Maloney is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.