Recently published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
In my childhood room, directly across from my bedroom door, were units of cabinetry and shelves that spanned the length and height of the wall. As long as I can remember, those shelves were filled with books. I picked out the copy of the Bible and thumbed through the strange Old Testament stories. Three hundred The Saddle Club books filled an entire shelf.
In my parents’ remodeled barn, there stands a double-sided bookcase, as tall and wide as the wall of a room (or wider), overflowing with books. My dad and I stood out in the barn as he showed me books in Greek and Latin, leather-bound 100-years ago. Behind the bookcase, I discovered boxes of Mad Magazine and “Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher,” along with the rest of my sister’s Bruce Coville books.
We regularly traveled to the Modesto and Turlock branches of the library (prior the Hughson branch’s existence). Before I could read, I rotated through the “Oz books” with their wild and original illustrations.
The Saddle Club gave way to Dickens, Bronte and Austin. The wall unit was eventually removed in the spirit of remodeling. My memory is haunted by a book I repeatedly checked out of the library about a unicorn that sleeps in a cave to recharge her magic. I will never remember the title.
The premise of the book “Bored and Brilliant,” by Manoush Zomorodi, is that we need to allow our minds to wander in order for them to work to their vast potential. Technology and social media pull us in, triggering shots of dopamine so we feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment with each ping and “like.” Photographing endless numbers of images with our phones saves brain space when we want to remember something, but makes our memory-function lax, so we become less skilled at remembering in general. We lose time and deep conversations. Relationships suffer when phone addiction grows.
For all the benefits technology offers, and they are many, nothing beats the charm of an old-fashioned book.
For children who are bored, books are a gateway into a world of wonder. My 7-year-old aches to escape her noisy siblings, so she picks up a book curious to discover its contents. Under interrogation, her clearest understanding of why she loves “Charlotte’s Web” is simply, “because I like it.” Indeed, it is only looking back now as an adult that I see books were my escape, my world away from the world. They opened horizons and foreign lifestyles before me. And they filled the time.
According to Richard Norquist at Thought.co “Deep reading is the active process of thoughtful and deliberate reading carried out to enhance one’s comprehension and enjoyment of a text.” While most internet reading aims for 5th-grade level comprehension and promotes skimming or superficial reading, reading long works of increasing difficulty flexes parts of our minds, requiring more from us.
In this demand for our effort, the book moves our thoughts from the oft-inward focus to an investment into something external, to a degree, risk-free. Focusing outward can reduce the habit of ruminating common to anxiety and depression. The risk the reader runs in this investment is care for the created characters (because it hurts when the book ends or the characters suffer). That care develops empathy. Increased empathy enhances real-life relationships.
It doesn’t sound easy, does it? With the world at our fingertips, in order to grab hold of the benefits of delayed gratification and hard work, we have to learn to say no to some things in life. I choose to shop at the fruit stand not only because the produce tastes better, but because it is good for me to have to wait for peach season. I choose to read because I know I will ultimately enjoy it more. I choose to close my laptop and get offline because I know it dulls my mind. I have to allow myself and my children to get bored enough to become curious about the world around us.
Reading regularly is like exercise. When you exercise you feel the benefits even when you are not engaged in it directly. Perhaps you are sprightlier when you get up from your chair. Maybe your shoulders hurt less. When I read regularly and deeply, I feel a mental spark throughout my day. I am learning to cherish that spark enough not to let myself fall back into the mindless internet skimming between books.
Some would say the love of books is hereditary. My father valued books. For the generation before him, books were not easy to come by, because of their cost. I value books. We have a wall of books in our home, continuing the tradition. “Why do you like to read?” I asked my daughter.
“Because I’m a book bug,” she chirped.