“I doubt you need to be told you should be reading more. There’s a good chance you struggle to make time for reading, and it feels like just another obligation, like hitting your daily step goal, or drinking more water.
“You’re not alone. In early 2021, nearly a quarter of Americans told the Pew Research Center that they hadn’t read any books at all the previous year. Earlier this year, a Gallup poll revealed that even those who were reading books were reading fewer than ever.
“So many people tell me that they used to be a reader and then they just fell out of it,” Lynn Lobash, the New York Public Library’s associate director of reader services, told me, recounting conversations from the past few years. “It’s hard to get back into a practice once you’ve lost it.”
“Because, look, it’s not easy! Books require sustained attention, something few of us have (and some of us have lost altogether) in these pandemic-riddled, anxiety-inducing times. Given some free time, you’ve probably got a million other things you could be doing: shows to binge, movies to half-watch, browser tabs to skim. Even if you loved to read as a child, when adulthood hits, reading can go out the window, relegated to beach reading on vacations and maybe a couple of books crammed into the corners of life.
“Even if you do manage to pick up a book, you might feel lingering guilt if it isn’t an important book, or at least an improving one. “There is no such thing as the correct book to read,” Allison Escoto reminded me over Zoom, a bookcase looming behind her. Escoto is the head librarian and education director at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. The canon of “important books” — what they are, and who gets to choose them — has been in a vibrant state of reexamination and expansion in recent years, she reminded me, and that means the “notion of the correct book, or the right book, or the acceptable book is itself under scrutiny.”
“In fact, numerous studies seem to suggest that when it comes to the psychological benefits of reading, just doing it might matter as much or more than the content. Researchers have found that people who spend a few hours per week reading books live longer than those who don’t read, or who read only articles in periodicals; the sustained act of cognition that books demand seems to be the deciding factor. Other research finds a vast array of social-cognitive benefits that come with reading, particularly reading fiction, aiding the brain’s development in understanding others and imagining the world...”
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