Are We Reading Enough?

We had a magazine/newspaper holder in our home, which would have editions from Readers Digest, India Today, or any other daily. Today it houses medical files of every family member, including those of Hero, our furry companion.

Our trips to a big stationery shop at the heart of the city would never be complete without wandering to the last corner of the shop and buy the latest Sidney Sheldon or Jeffery Archer book from a limited stock. Instead of mobiles, our generation would keep novels in between our textbooks or sometimes under the classroom bench.

I am sure some of you can resonate with this nostalgic life. This thought popped at a time when I decided to take a break from social media and realized my mind was decaying like our archaeological structures, without usurping substantiate the knowledge.

At a time (end of April) when our anxiety level was being provoked by social media storm from ‘if we will survive this wave or not, to the rising number of covid cases, the only option left for me to maintain my sanity was to abandon social media altogether. I decided to be a ‘messiah’ (no offense) for my mind and family.

While there is always a book by my side, I had a bit of a reading slump since March, which is quite normal, but instead of improvising; I literally wasted hours on mindless issues on social media, which wouldn’t have made any difference in my life. It’s been seven weeks since my break from Twitter/Instagram, and I have already finished reading six books.

Photo by Maël BALLAND from Pexels

Not that I am ready to participate in some competitive exam with the knowledge gained, or argue with some research scholar, but it’s good to be back with my eternal saviors. There is enough time to indulge in other activities, and watch/read “truth” from both sides of the news.

Looks like this the new world order. But how did we get here? How did our journey from waiting excitedly for a month for readers digest magazine, ended up with a swiping barrage of online notifications? 

In a clearly divided ideological world where we are being fed with copious and banal opinions day and night, it’s getting harder to question our own well-manicured stance. The overall discourse over fierce arguments and debates these days is when we see people, especially blue tick personalities having the same thought process.

This puts a lid on our mind; especially when it is boiling with instant anger over any issue. There is no scope for counter reading then. A quick question which pops up, with a population of over a billion how come to our viewpoints are so limited.

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Where everyone seems to have an opinion how is it we end up following only a few narrowed-down perspectives? In a world full of Whatsapp and Instagram influencers’ university graduates, we have stopped becoming our original selves.

While all of us do realize the benefits of reading and how it helps our critical thinking and improves personal relationships, the moot question is if we know exactly what we are reading. How do we decipher that what we read is important?

Is it just adding more books on our bookshelf for the sake of sounding like a nerd or do some of us genuinely gain from such reading? Do we happily acknowledge our changed viewpoints and perspective after this?

There are books that change us for good, for some, changes happen due to life experiences, which allow them to read a particular type of books and follow a certain path. After spending my entire teenage years reading full of crime thrillers, I shifted my focus to non-fiction.

The past few months have been redeeming, as some mythological reading has imbued gaps in my approach towards life. Some of my friends who are totally drowned in the mystic land of literature have successfully convinced me to join their league.

There must be many such factors for people, but the fact is, that the entire notion of reading culture is missing from our everyday life. Ask yourself, are we noticing the missing book shops and libraries in our city, and the subsequent conversation related to it? Jammu, where I come from is a small city with great hope and yet till now, we don’t have a decent book store.

Few old libraries in the heart of the city are in dilapidated condition. Strangely we still find some old published books there, which are not easily available in the market today, but hardly anyone is taking an effort to get its membership.

Wonder in today’s time, how many even know about such libraries. Will we ever have a reading club at the community level or literary festival in some picturesque town of Jammu, in near future? Are we encouraging such thoughts? Apparently, these questions should be asked to our elected representatives too, who any day would want us to read their election manifesto.

But that’s how a community is built and connected, where we need an amalgamation of all such thoughts and develop this habit. As our lives are getting intertwined and engulfed with various social media apps, our entire way, and mechanism to read, think, analyze, the debate is lost somewhere in retweets/likes and worrying about our invisible followers.

Have we forgotten how to read? Is there a decline in individual reading or have we immersed ourselves too much in other activities? I can’t act like The New Yorker, where they would share statistics to show how Americans (here, India) over the past decade have seen a decline in reading, but a general assessment with little life experience is enough to decry the reality.

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Today, materials related to history, geopolitics, economics, laws, environment, political science, philosophy, medicine, science, etc are available with just one click and in small compartmentalized boxes (posts).

The entire thesis of these subjects is short framed, presented, and garnished in a way by the person, ideologically inclined to. That source of information is consumed by many lazy readers, shared (guilty myself) and which eventually becomes a ‘verified fact’.

Like instant coffee, our reading has also become instant and short. Neither the instant coffee tastes good, nor is this short reading perfect, as it would require less effort and more patience. This has led to the more peculiar problem, where we have started making assumptions by reading just the headlines and outrage over it for days.

Photo by Reggienald Suarez from Pexels

What we read today is anyway, less oriented to the deeper and reflective aspects of our human condition; therefore the content appears to be superficial. How do we deal with such a myriad of convoluted thoughts?

 Another interesting thought about reading is its connection with speaking and viewing. We speak without reading. “Speaking is already in our genes. But reading is not.”– Rita Carter, a writer, broadcaster, and journalist, who specializes in working the human brain, rightly points out our basic trait.

I don’t know if it was written for our politicians who speak barrage of nonsense without reading, but this trait is a unique reality, amongst us. Some of us are too stubborn to change our opinions, even if shown otherwise.

Our mind works in an interesting way, we unconsciously filter out inconvenient truth to suit our narrative, which increasingly becomes harder to change with time. Caleb Crain an American writer expresses in his article published in The New Yorker, “A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently.

If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable”. The three-dimensional outlook of reading, viewing and speaking, should ideally be clubbed together. But it’s both personality-oriented as well as our lack of effort to scroll down and read divergent opinions.

That’s why it gets harder to come out of our perpetual echo chamber. This article might come out as some TEDx speaker learning experience, but it’s just a subtle realization and acceptance of a personal journey. The above anecdotes could be myopic for some, but it needs to be discussed. Not many can be categorized in the same way, but I am sure the entire notion behind ‘what is enough reading’ can be debated for time immemorial.

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