If you’re like me, you don’t need breaking news: you just need some time with your “friends”
The Pew Research Center’s 2019 survey found that “roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year.” And right now, I’m feeling very, very sorry for these people. Because during this pandemic and the feelings of isolation and immobility that it carries with it, I don’t know how they stay sane without a love of reading.
As Fernando Pessoa says, “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” And at this particular moment, life is not something on which I want to focus.
As a matter of fact, the only real way I don’t lose my footing in these dark days is by indulging in a good book.
So here are some extra important reasons why you should immerse yourself in the magical powers of fiction reading.
Reading fiction requires no energy.
I suppose I could be using my time now more productively by getting in shape or learning a new skill, but I find that my mental and physical energy to do these things are is limited. Most days, I can’t think about improving myself; I can only focus on not surrendering to the extreme weariness I feel as a result of these trying times.
For example, I’m an English teacher who at this point in time is being thrown into a sort of wolves’ den. I am having to learn different technologies and ways of doing my job due to my transition to virtual learning. And by the time I’m done with my daily duties, I’m exhausted.
I know many of you also feel the same way as you transition to working from home.
And why it is that even though we are spending more time in our “nests” and managing to have more free hours in our day do we feel so slothful?
It’s a proven fact that a crisis such as the one we are all experiencing can make your body (and your brain) weary. In Medical News Today’s article “Why You Feel Tired All the Time,” it lists five major causes of this often crippling state of tiredness: lack of sleep, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, excessive stress, and certain medical conditions (two of which are anxiety and depression).
Okay, so take a quick inventory of your life for the last three weeks. How many of these blocks can you check? Me, I’m five for five.
For example, if you’re like me, your sleep schedule is totally off. In addition, you’re either binge eating because you’re bored or not eating because you’re stressed. You’re probably also doing more lying around the house than you’ve ever done before. And I’m diagnosing you of all right now with anxiety and depression (no Pd.D. needed).
So it’s no wonder we’re so tired.
And the good thing about reading is we don’t have to fatigue ourselves further. As a matter of fact, the mere act of reading can help improve our energy by alleviating many of these factors. For example, oftentimes, reading helps us relax enough to nap during the day and get better sleep at night because of the pleasant diversion it affords, a diversion that provides a temporary escape from internalized stress and anxiety.
It acts as a distraction, keeping us from doing things such as ruminating on negative thoughts and overthinking, the two very things that many of us are consciously or subconsciously doing the majority of the day.
Reading fiction diverts our focus.
In an article entitled “Reading for Stress Relief,” it explains the benefits of escaping into the pages of fiction, stating that by “simply opening a book, you allow yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from your daily stressors.” The fact is when you read a novel that truly engages you, you become someone else and reside somewhere else, a pleasant change from the troubled person and dark setting you return to when you close those precious pages.
As a matter of fact, this is why my main focus as I teach teens online during this pandemic is a good novel study. It temporarily liberates them from a situation in their lives that is both extremely confusing and extremely troubling. I subscribe to the same philosophy as American writer Kate DiCamillo that, especially during these times, “reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
And this gift of evading the gloomy world which surrounds us is a treasure all people who open a book can enjoy.
Reading fiction relieves feelings of loneliness.
In this quarantine, our cabinets may be full (if not our toilet paper holders) and our physical needs may be met, but a different need arises that has yet to be fulfilled: human connection.
In the immerse experience of fiction, we unknowingly ally ourselves with a particular group of like-minded souls. For example, I love crime fiction. With each chapter, I am always “following along” behind the detective: examining the evidence with him or her, going to autopsies to gather clues, and visiting possible suspects. We, in essence, are a “team,” working together to solve whatever crime has been committed.
And it’s the same with many other pieces of fiction.
Take the famous novel Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. People identify with a group or “house” and even bare t-shirts proudly proclaiming “House Lannister” or “House Stark.” The same is true of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series or the various factions in Beatrice Prior’s Divergent books.
According to Bustle, books fulfill this need for human connection by “mimicking the effects of socializing with a group and providing a collective identity.”
As Japanese author and Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō says, “To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations — such is a pleasure beyond compare.”
And in a time where we are separated from those people with whom we feel a “collective identity,” whether they be family, friends, or even co-workers, books fill in the gaps and ally us with the characters whom we travel beside in the novels we read. And, just for a few minutes or hours, we feel “connected” in a world where human connection is off-limits at the moment.
The bottom line:
I’m an English teacher so I’m perhaps a bit prejudiced when it comes to the power of books. I could go on and on about the life-changing ways the written word changes us both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
And during this oh so difficult time, the only thing that makes me happier than a book is seeing my teen daughter next to me, eyes glued to the page, having her own special conversation with the “people” in whose lives she is currently immersed.
Because I know that at least for this moment, she and I are both at peace. And her world and mine desperately need this small slice of tranquility right now, and I bet yours does too.
So find a good book and make the experience extra special. Light a candle, put on some soft music, and lose yourself. Reality will return soon enough, and when it does, you will be more ready to deal with it, thanks to what Charles William Eliot calls “the quietest and most constant of friends.”