The Lost Art of Reading

On a plane ride from Portland, OR to Chicago yesterday afternoon, I had conducted myself in a manner I haven’t in ages, if ever. At PDX (that’s fancy airliner code for Portland’s international airport), I purchased a book – Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation fame (and Illinois native). And instead of obsessively connecting to WiFi or popping on iTunes as a plane lullaby, I put my head in the book and read. Admittedly, I’m a horribly slow reader and four hours of word-by-word toil resulted in 105 pages read, but one satisfied customer.

When we landed and I bookmarked my page, my head propped up and thought, “When was the last time I didn’t listen to music on an airplane?” Instead of lamenting the fact, I smiled with gratification at another fact – I rediscovered the lost art of reading. Distractions, the ultimate culprit, usually derail focus and hurl me into a river of nonsense, whether it be movies, music, crosswords, sudoku, staring out the window at the world as if humans were ants. There was a sense of accomplishment just to conquer those Distraction Demons. Always does it help when the reading material is telling stories of great America individuals (Washington, Franklin, Madison), their accomplishments, and a few common denominators related to success, including word-hungry book whoring. These folks loved to read, and anything…hence the Age of American Enlightenment.

Now, I enjoy my fair share of page-flipping, don’t get me wrong, but usually it’ll take a compelling good book and loads of clock to propel me to solitary confinement. AND I successfully excuse myself from the act thanks to the aforementioned distractions and the worst bloody culprit: the internet. But, in that moment, on that plane, in that book as if Ron Swanson narrated to me, I felt transformed into this person who can and will take on more books and hopefully gain more knowledge, perspective, wisdom, humor, entertainment, et cetera.

For my generation (some odd hybrid of Gen Xers and the dreaded Millennial class), reading published works (along with scribbles of silly blogs like this one, or 140-character opinions) has never been easier. Kindle, Nook, iPads, iPhones, apps, and more bring words from scribes around the world at your fingertips, literally. So, you could imagine such surprise that the art of reading is lost because it shouldn’t be close to lost, but more prolific than ever. I’ll never buy the argument of “more people are doing X than ever before! How can you say it’s dying!” Well, we have exponentially more people on the planet every day, and of course more people are going to be doing whatever activity more than periods of history when the world population was a fraction of 2016’s.

You know what else is more prolific than ever? Internet use, app use, social media use, Netflix watching, recording stupid videos on YouTube for an arbitrary audience of subscribers.

My question is: Do these “activities” accomplish anything for the betterment of self and/or society at large? Or are these mere distractions that only steal our time and bury our minds away from reality? I think it’s safe to say that most people would like to enjoy a successful, happy life, yet believe the world is horribly difficult to conquer. These “activities” simply avoid facing reality.

The art of book reading is the counter to the world trend of Facebook, Twitter, movie/TV watching, and shenanigan-finding. Instead of me, me, me, massive externalization of self, and quick hits of nonsensical garbage slung to the social world, there is confinement in one’s mind as true internalization which brings forth a calmness and humility to accept new information/knowledge/wisdom at hand – in a book. “I don’t know everything, and I’m not the center of the universe.” A rare internal monologue…Awkward.

Words are read, digested, interpreted, and the mind is fed a healthy meal. In a compulsive fitness culture, you’d think we’d act prudently to exercise body AND mind. “I like to break a mental sweat too.” – White Goodman. Here’s to hoping.

I only wish my 12 year-old self had heeded my father’s advice during my childhood when he said, “Go read a book.” At least it’s never too late to go do just that.

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