Sometimes my sister and I have life-changing conversations at the kitchen table whilst our lunch digests. A couple days ago we had one such conversation.
Mariah and I were discussing the benefits of reading. I love stories, in almost any form. I believe that the stories I read, watched and heard as a child played a huge role in the development of my own personal code of ethics and moral compass.
The stories we ingest become a part of who we are.
So read, read, read, right? Reading offers seemingly limitless benefits, I mean studies have shown that reading reduces stress, increases brain connectivity and function, improves empathy, and much more.
Yet as my sister and I were talking, I began to grapple with a problem I’ve been stewing over in the back of my head for a while now.
Is it possible to overeat good stories?
There have been periods in my life wherein I feel stuck in a fictional world, vicariously living through the characters I meet in books. My motivation for pursuing life goals falls, as I become content to escape to an alternate reality.
I don’t want stories to provide a life-long cubby to hide in. I want stories to inspire me to do things in real life.
What happens if children or adults become content to give up the real world to live inside the fiction that they read? Is it possible that reading too much could diminish creative output?
“Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.”
The goal of reading is not to escape the real world, it is to gain knowledge which is eventually processed and results in action and a fulfilled life. If you only ever consume, without reflecting and producing, reading loses value:
With that in mind, I began to reflect on my own reading habits. I noticed that during low periods of productivity (due to personal tragedy or other circumstances) my time spent reading rises. However, when I am super busy pursuing life goals (like when I was living abroad) I spend far less time reading.
I used to feel guilty for not reading enough while I was living abroad. Now, however, I believe it is all part of the natural cycle of creative input versus output. If I had spent my days abroad locked up in my room reading books, I would have missed out on chances to develop relationships and pursue projects. However, all the time I spent locked in my room reading during my gap year at home helped to inform and inspire me to pursue studying abroad and helped me to make the most of my experience.
Perhaps the ebbs and flows in my time spent reading are the result of a natural cycle of productivity. Reading more in hard times inspires me to push through and informs creativity later on. However, I don’t need to feel guilty for taking breaks from vigorous reading during busier periods of life.
(Mind you, even in the high-productivity/low-reading times I try not to give up on reading completely. I usually spend a minimum of 15-30 minutes a day reading long-form articles, like The Economist, New Yorker, Washington Post etc… and 20 minutes to an hour of reading a random library book. )
I’m pretty sure that most people experience peaks and valleys in their life. Nobody is 100% productive all the time. When you are feeling low or have a slower period of life, immerse yourself in books. This ingestion of knowledge will fuel your periods of higher activity when you don’t have the time to read quite as much.