It wasn’t until late 2017 that I asked myself how long it had been since I’d last read a book. I hadn’t made some formal decision to stop reading, but I was surprised (and disappointed) to realize that I hadn’t read through an entire book other than University material in nearly 6 years.
I started reading at a very young age, thanks to my mom’s encouragement and enthusiasm for reading. It wasn’t a supplementary activity I occasionally explored when I had free time – it was an active part of my life that I cherished. Studies have been indicating a gradual decline in the amount of reading Americans take part in per year. What happened?
It’s pretty easy to come up with some theories: the rise of the internet, smartphones, video games, television streaming, and similar forms of entertainment have gradually taken up an increasing amount of Americans’ time. That’s not to say that these activities hold no merit – in fact, there are benefits to any and all of these hobbies, but reading has been frequently shown not only to help keep the brain sharp, but to improve quality of sleep and to increase empathy. In a time when people are becoming increasingly split on political and social issues, partaking in activities that help with empathy is definitely desirable.
Reading is also a particularly relaxing hobby. The APA held a recent survey showing a dramatic increase in anxiety in Americans over the last 10 years (between 2007 and 2017). Finding entertaining ways to lower anxiety and keep the brain active is a great way to help with day-to-day stress. There tends to be a bit of a stigma surrounding reading, with a number of people seeing different genres and writing styles to be inherently superior or inferior to one another, and judging readers based on their choices. Because of this, people tend to see reading as a pretentious or elitist form of entertainment, and because they try to force themselves to read books that they don’t enjoy because it makes them a “better reader”, they often get turned off to the idea of reading when they don’t end up enjoying the books they are attempting to make it through.
The key to reading is to understand that if you’re not enjoying it, you don’t have to finish it: there are books of endless styles and genres to choose from, and just like a person can choose to spend their evenings watching Breaking Bad or House Hunters rather than being forced to “choose”, so too can you seek out books that entertain and excite you.
I started reading again over the last few months, and I haven’t stopped since. In the long period where I wasn’t reading, I had completely forgotten the experiences and benefits that reading provided me, and in a day and age where we are increasingly encouraged to take part in more and more social, outward-reaching forms of entertainment, I would encourage everyone to take a chance at enjoying some time by yourself with a good book. You might just find it a lot more thrilling than you remember.