I don’t have time to read these days, especially fiction.

My weary brain struggles to process this bunion of information, dropped casually into conversation. As a fiction writer, such statements are bricks hurled at my head, dental drills applied to not-numb gums. Honesty flays me open, rearranges hurts, shreds my very soul.

Why don’t people have time to read?

Here are a few things people tell me:

  • I’m too busy, say some.
  • By the time I fall into bed, I’m too tired. Thinking hurts my brain. I just want to get my mind still enough to sleep.
  • My to-do list is staggering.
  • The kids need stuff.
  • I’m harried and heartbroken, stressed and consumed by life. With everything pulling at me, reading is a luxurious waste of time in a world lacking finery.
  • A brazen few actually puff out their chests and bark, I don’t read, like it’s a badge of pride.

Fiction is even harder.

  • I can’t escape into a story. Too much is happening on my phone.
  • Really, I can’t do anything immersive.
  • Why read novels when real-life is one screwed-up show, and I don’t have to work nearly as hard?

Last month, I spent time in LA with my dear friend Debra Fetterly. One of her granddaughters straggled into the living room while we were sipping tea.

“What’s up?” Debra wondered.

“I’ve been reading for about an hour, and I’m so relaxed,” her granddaughter chirped. “Can I read a while longer?”

After she left, Debra turned to me. “You know, we’ve forgotten what reading is supposed to be.”

“What do you mean?” I wondered.

“Reading is a form of meditation. We’re SUPPOSED to read when we’re stressed, when we have too much to do, when we can’t focus. It’s a delicious form of escape.”

Reading is a form of meditation.

I’ve thought about Debra’s observation many times since I came home. I wonder how the world’s stress levels would change if, for just one week, everyone set aside an hour to lose themselves in a story. It could be about anything, transport them anywhere. Instead of wondering what new outrageous-but-the-same thing is happening in real life, wouldn’t it be glorious to go someplace different? Even if it’s only in our imaginations?

For thousands of years, reading was the seminal way for humans to escape the drudgery and stress of living. I fear we’re returning to the Middle Ages, only then people didn’t read because they couldn’t. An institution hoarded knowledge and shielded it from the masses.

These days, with so much knowledge at our fingertips, why do we choose to scroll, distracted skimmers of everything and lost in nothing?

PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. READ A BOOK. DON’T PICK YOUR PHONE UP UNTIL YOU’RE FINISHED WITH SAID BOOK. I DARE YOU TO TELL ME YOUR BRAIN DIDN’T BREATHE.

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