Post college I’ve tried to get back into activities and habits I had to forgo for the sake of time. Along with getting more sleep and watching a little more TV in the evenings, I’ve been working myself back into the habit of regularly reading books. In 2017 I set some reading goals, very few of which I achieved, but by the end of the year I had read 12 books during my free time, which was 12 more books than I’d read start to finish all of college. (That’s assigned reading included. Forewarning for new college students, your professors will assign a lot of books you won’t actually need.)

I worked through a few Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography books and one of his most famous works, “Cost of Discipleship.” I read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, “A Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, “The Hobbit,” “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, “Finding God in the Waves” by Mike McHargue, and a couple of others. Bonhoeffer showed me the importance of suffering, Ben Franklin showed me the value of hard and diverse work and education, Rowling showed me the interconnectedness of everyone’s stories, Tolkien continues to show me the beauty of adventure and imagination, Dickens showed me why not to live by others’ expectations of me, and McHargue echoed my own struggle of faith by explaining the importance of spiritual journey.

Each book, fiction and non-fiction, had something else to show me; some new nugget of wisdom or knowledge that I’d forgotten, or internalized for the first time. Every book was like its own rare gem that needed to be rolled and weighed in the hands, held up to the light, and marveled for a time. Each was just one outpouring of thoughts and creative energy from one corner of another person’s mind. Thousands of experiences and imaginings all combined into one work, with dozens of other possibilities and discussions that could come as a result, and many of which will always belong to the author.

I know many people who are avid readers, the kind of people who will read one book a week, or have read every popular book in a genre or topic. I also know many people who rarely read an entire book, or have a strong dislike for reading. And as large as both groups combined is the camp of people who wish they had the time or motivation to read a book.

Like any season or holiday, reading month is a time set aside to reflect and engage in specific practices, traditions, or habits. March is for a mental workout, thought aerobics, and the stretching of the mind. Reading month is not only a time we try to get back into the habit of reading, but it’s also a time when we practice placing ourselves in the shoes of another, appreciating the beauty of stories we haven’t yet heard, and reopening our minds to ideas we’ve forgotten or closed off.

Like Thanksgiving for remembering what we’re thankful for, like the warmth of spring reminding us to get outside and walk, like Lent prompting us to let go of unhealthy habits and practice greater discipline, reading month is a time of practice to prepare us for better habits, and ultimately healthier lives. While you’re out stretching your legs in the spatterings of early spring, stretch your mind by reading a book, maybe even one you wouldn’t normally consider.