Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reading is Important for Work, Pleasure, and Just Being Well-Read

(From the March 12, 2015 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately. Mostly, about how little time I have for it.

I do a lot of reading in the course of my days and weeks. I read the Bible and some sort of devotional every morning. Then there is a lot of reading for work—reading trade publications, newsletters, academic journals and books to stay up on the field I teach. I also read lots of memos and reports related to administrative responsibilities. Of course I have to read student papers. I try to keep up on the news, which these days involves reading this paper as well as many other sources digitally on my computer or phone.

So why do I feel like I lack the time to read?

It’s partly because so much of the reading I do is obligatory or compulsive reading. I feel like I lack the time to read nonfiction books or novels just for the sheer pleasure of it, to entertain and educate myself on topics about which I am otherwise unfamiliar.

It’s also because so much of the reading we do these days is done in short bursts. We read headlines, summaries, reviews, social media posts. In fact, one academic study found that most of those links we see people offer on Facebook and other social media platforms are to articles they never actually read. They just want people to think they read it. And most of the people who click “like” do so not because they actually went to the link and read and approved of the content. They just liked the headline, or the idea of the article being linked.

So I, and possibly a lot of you, need more time to not only read, but to read for simple curiosity, and to read deeply.

I must say I was happy to read on the top front of this newspaper last week that the Bookman, our own local bookstore, will continue even though its current owners have decided to retire. Kudos to the new owners for following their passion, and in so doing keeping a local bookstore running for the rest of us.

Speaking of bookstores, there does seem to be a lot of people in bookstores whenever I am. This strikes me as odd and reassuring, because I get the sense that many people feel they have less time to read. Perhaps there is a core group of people who are regular readers of books. Maybe not everyone feels overwhelmed and lacks the time to read.

That notion was supported by another article in the paper last week the same day the news about the Bookman broke. Our local libraries are looking to increase digital offerings, but they still have hundreds of thousands of printed books in circulation every year. One librarian noted that people with e-readers also read print books. Like every other emerging technology, digital books supplement but does not replace printed books.

An interesting example of technology encouraging book reading is seen on Goodreads, a social media space on the web or in an app that’s all about sharing with friends what you’re reading, what you want to read, and what you thought of what you read. I’ve learned of good books—and been steered away from some—with this platform. I have categories of books ranging from academic interest to pure fiction entertainment in this app, and it encourages me.

I was also encouraged recently by meeting several people at social occasions who impressed me with how well read they are. These were people I had never met before, but just struck up a conversation because we were at the same event with time on our hands. Our discussions went from history to politics to religion to sports to philosophy. It was delightful. One person was an entrepreneur, another a maintenance man. Their occupation and academic pedigree did not matter. They were simply deep readers, and therefore great conversationalists.

As I write this, it is college spring break. My wife and I are not going anywhere, choosing instead to stay home and catch up on some projects and just relax here. I also caught up on reading. I picked out some classic literature, an award-winning novel, and some nonfiction works. All of them hard cover books I had bought in recent years and left on a shelf for later. Well, with a week off from normal obligations, I dove right in. Now I hope I can keep reading even as work and life pressures continue.