Designed by Ly Ngo.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who work out all the time, and those who feel guilty about not working out often enough. We all know what we need to do to be healthy, but sometimes life (or the latest season of House of Cards) gets in the way. And, you just have to live with the guilt of your sedentary lifestyle.
But, lately I've been fixating on something that makes me feel even guiltier. Let me bring you down with me: When was the last time you read a book?
Don’t worry, I’m not here to judge. I haven’t been reading enough myself. Even though I attended St. John’s College, a school known for its “Great Books” program. Even though I live steps from a library, and I own a solid collection of books I’d happily reread, I just haven’t been making the time.
The thing is, though, I’m still reading a lot. Between my work and my free time, I spend hours a day reading. But, almost all of that reading is done on the Internet.
And, there's nothing wrong with that. I love reading online. The web is essential to my career, and I have a handful of favorite sites that I rely on to entertain and educate me every day. But, what with the never-ending news cycle, the parade of touching, personal essays that I just have to click on, and (let’s be honest) cat videos, I’ve become an addict. And, sure, it's a harmless (even edifying) addiction, but it comes at a cost. There are some things novels offer that even the best web writing can’t replace.
At their worst, blogs posts are like white bread. Though there is undoubtedly valuable content online, a lot of it is processed, easy to digest, and quickly satisfying. And, much like white bread, these blog posts don’t offer enough value in the long run. Despite my constant consumption of them, my mind remains hungry for something more.
Designed by Ly Ngo.
Novels, or at least the great ones, tend to offer more intellectual nutrition. (Although, the white-bread version of printed, bound, and published fiction certainly exists as well. In spades.) While blog posts and news articles keep me informed in real time, books provide a different kind of knowledge. Books offer more information, partially because of the sheer volume of words they contain. Books can fully explain complex ideas and convey deeper emotion than a mere 1,000 word deep-dive. Books can transport you into another person's life for months at a time. And, as Mortimer J. Adler says in How to Read a Book:
“…a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable — books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.”
Even if you’re not worried about becoming wiser, books still provide beaucoup benefits. Science has repeatedly shown that the sustained engagement of reading is good for brain health and long-term memory. Reading has even been shown to help reduce stress and ward off dementia. Plus, forcing yourself to stay tuned to one book over a span of time exercises your memory and concentration, whereas blog posts are often easily skimmed and don’t require as much of a reader.
Designed by Ly Ngo.
There’s also an incredible social element to reading books that I’ve never been able to replicate with online content. Ask a friend for a book recommendation, and chances are she’ll offer up so much more than one title that you simply have to read. And, if you've read the book in question, the two of you are likely to fall into a discussion of plot points and irksome characters immediately. Because, the ideas and emotions in a good book can be so thought provoking, they seem to provide endless fodder for discussion (that, plus a bottle of wine, handily explains the popularity of book clubs!).
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we quit reading online — definitely don't stop reading this site! I'm just saying that we could all afford to fit some more books into our diet. How you make the time, that's up to you. You can even bring a book to the gym, if you want to feel crazy productive. Just know a bit more reading will be worth it. So, I'm committing myself to reading a book a week this year. I'm starting with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After that, I'm thinking The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. And then, who knows?