Lewis Trowbridge, previous owner of The Reading Place bookstore in downtown Charlotte, said that he would read about 25 books a year, give or take. According to his account that number has decreased in the years that he’s owned the bookstore. He recollected the number of books per year was more before opening the store, and expects that number to increase significantly during his years of retirement. By my math, Lewis has read about 1,000 books in the last 40 years of owning The Reading Place. That number is staggering to me, especially considering it’s probably a lot more if we’re counting his years before owning the bookstore.
When I think about the last few years, or even my whole lifetime (24 years), 1,000 books seems impossible. Heck, 25 books a year seems unreasonable. I just finished school, I work two jobs, I have a social life, I need down time where I don’t think at all, I need to sleep, and of course I have to keep up on a TV series I’m watching on Netflix. (Usually one series I watch over a span of several months because I don’t have enough time to binge watch) Who has time to read? Who has time to thoroughly keep up with the news, let alone read multiple fiction books in a matter of weeks?
Even with these questions in mind, I find myself making more time to cut away just for reading. I’m waking up earlier to get in an hour or so of page turning before work. When I take breaks from working I (usually) try to read a short chapter. After a long day I might unwind at a quiet bar and read while sipping on a beer. On the occasion I’m on a road trip with family or friends, reading is a must when I don’t have to take turns driving. Lewis has inspired me, along with some of his customers who are notorious for reading up to 90 or more books in a year.
Other avid readers have inspired me as well, mainly presidents, as of late. President Obama is well known to be an avid reader. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush are both notorious power readers. President George W. Bush even had a reading competition with Karl Rove, which reportedly had the president reading about two books a week, while in office.
And now, from what we can tell by his own word, and reports from the White House from reporters like Maggie Haberman in a January article, President Trump doesn’t seem to be much of a reader. In an interview with Megan Kelly from Fox News, the president said, “I just – don’t have time anymore.” And now there’s a serious issue in the U.S. of people not trusting the news media, recently because of accusations from the president that it’s “fake news.” But that distrust has existed since the invention of the printing press.
This blog post isn’t intended to be a Trump basher. Although I find it telling that the most inarticulate, rude, and apparently disorganized and unfocused president in recent history doesn’t take time to read, and even encourages people not to trust what they read.
And that’s one of the primary reasons why we, youth and adults alike, need to learn how to read well, and read often. The ability to see beyond just what a text reads to what a text says is invaluable. If people can read, comprehend, and internalize text well we can tell whether it’s true or false, biased or objective, right or wrong on our own. Reading allows us to decide for ourselves what is “fake” or real, unfair or just.
Unfortunately, reading takes time.
Studies, like one from Common Sense Media in 2015, are showing that entertainment media (TV, computer, video games, social media, phone apps, etc.) can take up to 9 hours daily of the average teenager’s time. The study from Common Sense Media (a non-profit organization dedicated to working with children and parents to navigate a technology centered culture) collected data from 2,658 teens from around the U.S. Further studies are showing now that constant attention to all-encompassing technologies like cell phones can be linked to addiction, anxiety, and depression, as a means of escapism.
This blog post also isn’t meant to be a technology basher. Indeed, technology is making literature more easily accessible.
Which is why reading is all the more important now.
As more technology clutters our attention, more activities take up our time, and more world leaders display negative effects of lack of reading, it’s vital to promote a healthy habit and diet of reading. While Lewis’ intake of books may not be suited for everyone, his commitment to consistent reading has done great things for his life. He’s connected to his grandkids through reading, he articulates his ideas clearly, he’s not afraid to discuss his ideas or the ideas of others.
Everyone should take their own pace reading, whether with books or otherwise. Some people may need to take several weeks or months to finish a book. (Some books and schedules demand it.) Some people, like myself, may need to read a book or article more than once to fully understand what the author is saying. Some people may only want to read fiction, or only non-fiction, while some people need a balance of both. To further break it down, some people need imbalances of mostly mystery, with a spattering of history. Or a larger intake of topic informative literature, and a good fantasy on the side to break up the monotony.
And that’s the beauty of reading. Especially in this age of technology and vast resources, each reader can accommodate their own reading needs, and take it at his or her own pace. An entire book can be accessed on a cell phone, and it can be a book the reader only reads when they have a few minutes in a waiting room, or on a train commute to work. Libraries and bookstores and online shopping are available for people who prefer hardcopies, while entire libraries can be accessed on a Kindle or a tablet.
Reading engages multiple areas of the brain. Our creativity, logic, our communication and comprehension skills, and more. It expands our vocabulary, our knowledge, our insight, our empathy, our ideas, our curiosity. Reading is mind and personality expansion. It challenges us to focus, brings us into the mind of another person, and cultivates a mind that’s open to many truths and possibilities. When we read we are quieting ourselves to listen with our minds, instead of just hearing with our ears. We don’t talk when we read, we simply take in. Reading teaches us to hear one another and creates a community of thought.
Whatever you may be reading right now, I challenge all readers to pick up something that may be challenging. Whether in length, content, or genre, find a book that is out of your norm. Let it grow and stretch your understanding and pallet, just like those early books did when you first started reading. Read at your own pace, read what will keep you interested, but just read. Read, not just for the sake of reading, but to keep your mind fresh, to stay informed, and to stay connected with people who are different than you.