There are so many ways to get information these days that I think we tend to forget about good old-fashioned reading on the printed page of a book.
I like the general idea of electronic readers — they are more environmentally friendly than traditional books, they take up less space, and the size of the font and lighting can be adjusted to one’s particular visual needs.
But studies suggest that reading on the screen of a reader is different than with a book, and your brain pays more attention when it is printed material. It’s also been suggested that relaxing with a real book before bed can help you sleep, whereas reading on a screen can keep you awake even after you’ve put it away.
Audio books also aren’t the best option. The appeal is that you can do something else while listening, due to the hands-free aspect. But then you are distracted and not really listening, which means you aren’t getting anything out of it.
We are in love with multitasking, but time and time again it has been shown that this is an inefficient use of our time because we do neither task well. This same principle goes for interacting with people — when someone says “I’m listening” while they’re doing something else, they really aren’t.
You probably know that I’m not a fan of TV. It really does put your brain into a passive, hypnotic state, which makes you easily suggestible. This is why advertising works so well, and as a result we have a consumer culture that is out of control. It makes us dissatisfied with our lives yet brainwashed into believing that with the purchase of this next product, everything will be better.
Television affects the development of children’s brains and gives them much shorter attention spans. As a result, the stimuli must change even more quickly. If you doubt this, then take a look at some old films and compare how slow they feel compared to the fast-paced roller coaster movies we have today.
This has affected even the way we read — we want bite-sized nuggets in the form of blog entries or other online posts that we can read on our phones; we don’t want to take the time and effort to dive into a huge novel. But the results of committed reading are worth it, as you can boost your brain power and slow the effects of aging. (Crossword puzzles and chess also can help.)
I understand that reading can be a challenge, especially if you’re not used to it. But with any skill, proficiency comes with practice. If you’re in the habit of watching a lot of TV, then it’s going to be especially difficult. So start off with something accessible. Most of all find a subject that interests you, whether a novel or non-fiction.
For those of you who do read regularly, I encourage you to amp it up a bit with some classics. Read some Russian mega novel. (Because winter just isn’t depressing enough?)
Maybe you’ve always wanted to take a stab at Shakespeare. Or maybe you’ve read some of The Bard of Avon and really do want to take a stab at him. A hint: If you find the language inaccessible, then try reading it out loud. The archaic English sounds less odd when spoken.
Fun fact: Shakespearean theatre goers would say they were going to hear a play, rather than see a play, as we do now. It’s all about the words.
Start a book discussion group with your family or friends. This can help keep you on track if you think you are less likely to complete the book on your own without some sort of accountability. You get the intellectual stimulation from reading but also the added bonus of interpersonal connection, something that can be sorely needed at this time of year.
Do whatever it takes to read real books — check something out of the library, buy something at the Friends of the Library sale, find stuff at Goodwill or garage sales, seek out clearance tables or discount book stores. Look for those Little Free Libraries that have been popping up everywhere.
To make books more user-friendly, you may have to get a magnifying glass or admit you need bifocals. Make sure you have enough light to prevent eye strain. (My mom got me a snake-looking thingy that goes around my neck with LED lights on either end.)
So many books, so little time. Happy reading.
Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, stephanie haines.com. Send commends to firstname.lastname@example.org.