Theoretically, once upon a time, it was possible to read voraciously. In a less connected world, our commitments would have been shaped differently. We would manage our time differently. And maybe, we would not only turn towards our friends and families in a more meaningful way, but we would find different paths into our own metaphorical cabins next to our own Walden Ponds. Not that there is much positive to be said about Thoreau, but the act of finding oneself through the written word, as author or as reader is a particularly modern phenomenon, yet one we are discarding ever more quickly.
Even as I type this, I am thinking about the pages I could be reading, the feel of crisp paper and the slight, raised texture of ink skimming past fingertips. But somehow, with all the modern phenomena available to make the mundane pass more quickly, to reach the leisurely part of life faster, there seems to be less time to read. Ever more to do, and more ways to do it quickly, and yet, less time to savor the flavor of a phrase. The more I skim electronic screens and stumble across ever more ways to procrastinate, the less I find myself able to read. It was simple, once, to pick up a tome and sink into it. Now, though I won’t put it down once I start, I struggle to begin a book, and find a way to focus on something that doesn’t emit blue light.
In grad school, I used train rides to steal time for myself, and read what I wanted. I told myself, starting a new job with a long train commute, that I would use that time to ignore my phone and read. But what I have found instead is that the mornings are too early, and the evenings are too crowded, and become instead a time to try to catch up on work not done that day. It has not yet been one full week of working.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll adjust. Maybe I can’t escape the crowded MTA evenings where I need to play catch up, but just maybe I will use the morning journey as a way to steal some time for myself, not through sleep but through the delicate meditation that comes from reading for both purpose and pleasure. The pleasure should be self-evident: the pleasure of discovering a new world, stepping into someone’s mind and tracing their steps, their thoughts through life. But the purpose is something else. The purpose of reading, of making time to reflect, is the same as meditation. To learn again to focus on one thing, on one skill, and through intense mental focus, learn to expand the mind and find a sense of clarity and quietude.