When I was in sixth grade my homeroom was the middle school library. Many mornings, my friends and I would mosey over to one of the shelves and sift through the titles. At one point, we had a phase in which we would read aloud the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. For those of you who are unfamiliar, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” is a series of self-help books that sews together inspirational stories from ordinary people on a certain theme. The brand gained major popularity in the 1990s and the series boasts over 250 titles. While my friends and I read the little stories together for amusement, one girl confessed to really enjoying the tales. In fact, she loved the words so much that she checked out “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” from the library and read the book to completion. Although we all see the same words written on the page, some words speak louder to us than others.
I’ve always loved reading. When a story really speaks to you it is as if your reality is temporarily suspended and your brain is transported elsewhere. When I was in sixth grade, I remember coming home from school one afternoon and reading an entire book in the “Series of Unfortunate Events” collection. Incidentally reading a book from cover to cover was always an unexpected and memorable pleasure in my childhood. Other books I remember reading without pause as a teen include “Leap day,” by Wendy Mass (which ironically takes place in one day of the life of the protagonist) and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky. As an adult, I have had (or simply have devoted less time) to sitting down and just reading. My mind at times feels bombarded with ambition, anxiety, and activity. When I have free time, I feel as if I need to occupy it in a way that will lead to professional, physical, or personal growth. For this reason, I find myself scheduling weekends with lessons, work, or exercise so I can try to “get ahead” in some aspect of my life.
Reading, of course, has numerous benefits including protection against age-related cognitive decline, it helps build your vocabulary, and reduces stress. However, unlike taking a college-level course or training for a marathon, reading for pleasure is not a means to an end. Because reading for leisure feels like work and free time is scarce, we often choose a fun film over a dense novel when it comes to entertainment. Yet, I feel for many of us, finding the “can’t-put-it-down” book gives us a greater and more lasting pleasure than a movie we cannot take our eyes off of.
Today, as I sit here in a cafe and write, I peer over my laptop and spy on my neighbors. They are mostly twenty somethings. The two women next to me are speaking about an apartment redecorating project. The two friends in front of me appear to be university friends. They are spread out between two tables, each with a textbook and laptop open, earbuds in, and pens scribbling across paper. In one corner, a man in a gray sweatshirt sits alone with what looks like a science fiction title. He is unmoving and seemingly unaware of his surroundings despite the lighthearted chatter that at times becomes too clear and loud to maintain one’s focus. He flips to the next page and bobs his foot arrhythmically without any cues from the pop song from overhead. I’m not a fan of science fiction and cannot tell what he is reading, however, I know my mind would be equally engaged and uncaring of my surroundings if it were in the same place as his.
Before I started writing, I was searching for my next audiobook read through my online library. My current audiobook is winding down and only about twenty minutes away from the end. While I usually enjoy what I read, there are only a small number of titles that have dulled my senses and transported my mind to an unreality. Searching for a good book is like a treasure hunt. I search for clues on the internet, beseeching suggestions from goodreads.com, and reading short summaries on Amazon all in the hope that I will strike gold rather than just a shiny cover with cheap pages. The quest to find a book that you will love can be long and hard, but usually worth it for that special title.
If you find yourself homebound in the midst of the pandemic, consider picking up a book. It is my hope that reading can liberate you from your quarantine and transport you to a fantastical unreality that will brighten your own. Whether you have days or minutes on your hands, I hope reading can provide you some relief in these trying times. As always, stay healthy, Dear Reader!