Ten years ago, it was much easier to endorse the activity of reading. I could easily defend my choice to read a book by saying books were, at the very least, better than what was on TV. Now I can no longer say that without making a few exceptions. That pratfall is largely thanks to the advent of high-concept television shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones (and yes, I realize two of those are based on books). Even some sit-coms have become pretty smart; episodes of The Office, Parks and Recreation, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers and so on are often just as witty and incisive as entire satirical novels. To tell the whole truth, there are times when I find myself wishing I could find a book as well written and rewarding as Breaking Bad.
As a life-long reader and a writer myself, I want to defend literature, but it’s difficult when I can only say, “books are better than what’s on TV, or at least, they are better than what’s on E! or Spike TV.” It’s important also to get people reading again, but how can books compete with everything out there? Here’s what I realized today. When it comes down to it, reading a book is better than doing nothing.
Doing nothing. No activity is more repugnant to me than sitting and staring, and yet, I’m surprised to see others don’t feel the same way. On a regular basis, I’ll see people in lobbies or waiting rooms doing absolutely nothing. Just sitting, staring off into space or brooding. If you know you’re going to be waiting for a while, why not bring along a book? It seems our culture has become so detached from books we can’t seem to remember when they would be useful. How in the world can a person just sit?
I’ve noticed it’s primarily the older generation who will sit and stare and bide their time, while people my own age or younger will always find some banal thing to do on their phone. If I may be so bold, let me point out that reading a book is also better than most of what you do with your phone. When people use their cell phones to kill time–that’s where the danger creeps in. Next thing you know, you’re getting text messages from friends saying “So Bored. Im over this. LOL.” Who actually likes receiving texts like these? Obviously, the sender has to wait for something or someone and didn’t think ahead and bring a book.
Here’s one of the most amusing things I’ve noticed recently: a man was sitting at the library, obviously waiting for someone, and he was doing absolutely nothing. Here he was, surrounded by books, with lots of time on his hands, and he just thinks, “Nah.”
I guess television has conditioned us to sit and stare blankly, but that’s only okay if there’s a TV around. Please, if there’s not a TV nearby, don’t just sit and stare as if there was one. Pick up a book.
Do you have a better argument for the importance of reading? I hope so.