Parker Gregory Shpak
I’m going to say something heretical to our collective faith as literary-folk. Here goes…
Reading is boring.
Whew! Okay, great, I’m still here. There’s no angry horde at my door. The walls of my home are still standing and I still have my health. Still, I should explain my exclamation.
I mean what I wrote. Reading is boring…most of the time. If you disagree with me, then you’re kidding yourself and probably trying to virtue-signal your intelligence and enlightened nature over your peers and I. The nature of reading, of sitting down with a book, is not an exciting prospect. Every time I set aside time for reading, a vague and quiet sense of dread whispers in the back of my head. I know myriad people who call themselves literary, and near-universally they all claim to read more than they really do. This isn’t to say we don’t read. I managed twenty-eight books in 2017, which isn’t anything to brag about but is also infinitely higher than the number of books the average American reads in a year (zero).
Most folks simply don’t read. This is not a function of laziness or our living in an apocalyptic time. My peers wax poetic about the mythic days when our country was more literary, but the truth is that literacy rates have only improved worldwide. The difference is this: generations ago, people didn’t read because they couldn’t. Today, they don’t read because they don’t want to. Why is that? Because it’s fucking boring.
What exactly does reading involve, anyway? Let’s assess:
Grab a book.
Sometimes it looks fun and interesting. If the book is new-to-you then the odds are higher that you’re excited by looking at it. I experience this phenomenon, and it’s why many of us have bookshelves at home brimming with books we’ve yet to open. It’s the reason why we buy a new book despite that same bookshelf overwhelmed with alien titles.
Sit down. Don’t move.
In a generation riddled with ADHD, this alone is an enormous task.
Stop looking at your phone!
There exists a split in the cultural zeitgeist regarding phones. On one hand are those addicted folks who think little of it. On the other are those who purportedly have “seen the way” and like to cite figures about how bad phones are for us (this person still owns a smartphone, they’re just more indignant about being told they’re addicted to it). Phones offer unlimited potential: the accumulated knowledge of the world at your demand. Also there’s Candy Crush. A book cannot compete; it’s like a tabby and a snow-leopard competing for your attention, and the snow-leopard is hungry and bearing down on you.
Read. Word. After. Word.
To get anywhere while reading you have to focus. Even when your phone is off or out-of-reach, thoughts plague us and make it near-impossible to pay attention. Halfway down the first page and you’re wondering if you were friendly enough to the barista yesterday. Cast the thought aside and three lines later another replaces it. Reading is, in a way, a form of meditation. Considering how few of us meditate, it’s a wonder how many of us read.
Still, we truck on. Why do we do it? Why do we deny ourselves the things we really desire—hitting the bar, watching the game (go Pats), binging S2 of Stranger Things—to torture ourselves with the written word? What in the hell do we get out of this?
There are a few options. Could be we’re all masochists. Probably true for some of our numbers, but not the majority. Could be we’re incredibly vain and we view reading as an attractive thing to be doing. I reckon this is true for a great deal more of us than we would be willing to admit (myself included—I’ll never admit it). Or, it could be the case that despite the tedium, reading really is worth it.
I suspect this final option is the truth.