the appeal of reading
from evy's notebook
I've talked to so many people who don't read much, but who say that they want to or feel like they should. This is something I've often experienced too - reading feels effortful and hard to prioritize, but to be a reader feels enticing.
A person who reads, in my mind, is someone who knows interesting things. They are smart. They are continuously seeking to understand their world better, and have a lot of context for how things work. They teach me things, they contribute thought-provoking tidbits to conversations, and they've done the research to act in carefully thought-out ways.
But there are mediums to learn interesting and useful things other than long-form reading. I get a lot of value from other educational and entertaining sources such as videos, conversations with friends, and (though it has its flaws) short social media posts.
I wonder if my social circles overvalue long-form written content. Why does reading a book or long article about a topic feel more impressive than learning about it through Twitter, YouTube, or friends? Perhaps there's a perception that reading something longer results in learning a topic more in-depth or rigorously. While this is sometimes true, I think people overestimate how rigorous long-form writing often is.
Reading feels effortful to me for several reasons. For one thing, a lot of long-form content is written in a meandering or repetitive way that I find difficult to follow and stay engaged with. I also find that this form of content uses more complex language than I encounter in conversations or social media, and so I'll find myself frequently stopping while reading to define words I don't understand.
I'm aware that I could improve my ability to skim a piece, to learn what a word means from the context in which it is written, or to find key ideas within meandering writing - but do I want to focus on developing these skills? Do I actually want to read more?
Two things keep bringing me back to a desire to read. One is that I have some books and articles I've bookmarked and am genuinely interested in reading (despite the effort it might take to read them). The other is that restful offline activities are important for me to have in my life, and curling up with a book is one that really appeals to me.
I find it difficult to separate my feelings about reading from the perceived intelligence and status that I associate with people who read. I don't believe that reading is the best way to learn or relax, and yet I keep coming back to a desire to build reading habits. As long as reading brings me pleasure and value, I'll continue to dedicate some time to it - but I hope that in the moments when long-form reading feels not worth my time, I can be kind to myself and know that I have lots of other wonderful things to do.