I’m hardly qualified for this post, as I’m not a great reader. I’m barely a reader at all. Well, that is not exactly true. I’m a reader in the sense that my Grandmother is a gamer because she plays Candy Crush. I read the news, Youtube comments, messages on my phone and the occasional pamphlet. I even read a book now and then. Reading books though was never enjoyable, it was never something I’d look forward to, it was always something I had to do. Whether it was to get a D on my English Literature exam at school*, or read the instructions to build an IKEA wardrobe, it always came down to necessity, but I wanted to change this.
I’m not entirely sure why? I do have a faint memory of a speech in which some speaker said reading enhances the brain in ways which other dissemination of knowledge can’t. Although I rather suspect I wanted to read books because I wear glasses, and as we all know, people with glasses read lots of books. It is a lot to live up to. I mean, I didn’t choose to have poor eyesight nor did anyone prepare me for the unwelcome burden of expected intelligence. Yet I took on this challenge as I have all other challenges in my life; passively doing nothing until someone notices.
The first person to notice was my English teacher. We had been given the book ‘Of Mice and Men’ to read for our final exam and it looked great. It had a really nice cover and wasn’t a very big book, maybe 8cm wide; 15cm tall, and it was very thin, which was great because my desk was uneven and putting it under one of the legs really helped. Why on Earth would I read a book when there is a perfectly good film of the same name? Well, that would be because George doesn’t hesitate to shoot Lennie in the film, but, as I would later find out, has quite a difficult time of it in the book. In retrospect, I was happy to get a D grade.
Surprisingly though this rather large nudge to read more didn’t spark me into action – apart from a random afternoon as a teenager when I read the David Pelzer book ‘A Child Called It’. I didn’t buy it and to this day I don’t know where it came from, or even where it went but I read it from cover to cover in a day. It was a flash in the pan.
The TV was more my thing, if I’ve read one book (and I have, I just mentioned that in the last paragraph) then I’ve seen 1,000 movies. They would grip me, and take me to places I’ve never seen or could even imagine. It would make me feel things and think things. After Karate Kid I’d pretend to wax the car and after Toy Story, I’d melt down all my toys to prevent them from coming to life. I couldn’t get enough of film.
I think this is where my issue with books begins. I was raised in the 90s when even working class people could
afford get a big TV and this disproportionate expenditure meant the humble TV had to transmorph between entertainment system and the worlds first robotic child care device. They have since been overtaken by the household tablet, but they’re still a significant influence. Naturally, it made my eyes square, but furthermore, it pounded me with stimulation. Flashing lights! Lound noises! Cute animals! Stimulation! More stimulation!
Then you see a book and it just, well, is. It sits there, not moving, not dancing and not doing much at all. I thought they were supposed to be ‘spellbinding’*, stupendous adventures that burst from the page. They were supposed to grab me and move me in ways that only a book can. Yet, when I saw a book it was just… a book. A few bits of paper enveloped by some slightly harder paper.
And so, I’d go back to the TV. Back to be blasted with stimulation once more, and when that wasn’t enough I played computer games, and when that wasn’t enough I’d play on my phone – sometimes I’d be a real badman and be on both at the same time. I just couldn’t get enough stimulation.
I don’t know the exact moment, but eventually, it dawned on me that maybe this ‘stimulation’ was in fact just white noise. Maybe it was not stimulating at all, but in fact, stealing… me. TV is a one-way road, there is no thought and no imagination required. It is the perfect ‘switch off and relax’ device, except maybe I was switching off and relaxing just a bit too much. Maybe the reason the pages of a book don’t come alive is they require more proactivity. I have to make the book come to life, I have to imagine, and I have to go on the adventure. The book, unlike TV, doesn’t take you anywhere, you take yourself there with its help – It is a two-way street. And unlike a book, TV will make you keep watching no matter how bad it is.
I put a lot of faith into this idea and 5 years after deciding to not have a TV anymore I have read 50 books. That is a rather coincidental 10 books a year – slow going by many accounts but I was previously averaging 1 book every 24 years prior to that so chill out Grandma. I should also say that it wasn’t quite a seamless transition into a bookworm (with glasses). I did sit on the couch staring at the wall where the TV would have been and twiddled my thumbs for a few weeks before I got bored enough to look at paper.
On a side note, I should also say that my book reading increased dramatically further this year when it took 6 weeks for a guy to replace the battery in my laptop. During this time I read 14 books. Although I’m strongly implying getting rid of my laptop will increase my reading further, it would make this blog post rather difficult to write. A black and white solution isn’t necessary though, as we can just enter the wonderful world of compromise and begin ‘Technology Free Days’ or as I like the call them TFDEESE*. Two a week to start with and let’s see how I go.
So there we have it; the secret to reading more books. Destroy your TV, don’t use technology for two days a week and you will be bored enough to pick up a book and realise they’re not that bad after all. You may even grow to like them. If not they’re still pretty good at levelling an uneven desk.
*Only ever hear that word in reference to books.
*Not only do I not call them that, I didn’t come up with the idea. It was a friend of mine. Cheers, Phil.