It was the spring of 2015. Just before my birthday. I was not happy at all. Then it happened. I had been working remotely for a company for a few years when they had announced layoffs. I was an easy expense to cut. It was a sunny day.
My initial reaction was typical: I went to my son’s school for an impromptu visit. If I was going to have more time with my family, it had better damn well start now. Then I called my friends and arranged lunch dates.
And then, one day, I looked at my bookshelf and sighed. I hadn’t just lost connection with my friends and family, I had also lost connection with my imagination and sense of curiosity. Wasn’t it also time to start finishing some books?
The solution to my ails was right there on my bookshelf.
As it happens, reading books is healthy. People who read fiction are happier, and have better relationships. When they read about an experience, the same neurological regions of the brain are triggered, as if they went through it themselves, says a study in the Annual Review of Psychology. And others show fiction readers are more perceptive and better at empathizing with others.
What’s more, folks who read books live longer according to a 2016 study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine; those who read fiction, rather than periodicals, had a noticeable “survival advantage” and enjoyed cognitive benefits.
Shakespeare knew it. “Come, and take choice of all my library and so beguile thy sorrow,” Titus Andronicus says to the book-weary Lavinia. In modern times, we have a word for it: bibliotherapy. And, yes, it’s an actual thing, with literature for prison inmates and to help with anxiety, reading circles for elderly and more.
When I made the choice to read more fiction, the feeling was palpable. I could feel books making me more patient and loving. I was spending less time talking about politics and more time talking about adventure. What salve, soothing words make.
What would your life look like if you took 20 minutes each day to read contemporary fiction? Two words – Life. Changing. Here are three ways to get back into it to change the way you view your day, maybe even the world.
- Consider Time Better Spent – Facebook says its users spend an average of 50 minutes a day on it, Instagram and Messenger. That’s almost an hour of your 24, where eight are already consumed sleeping; three cooking and eating; one getting ready; eight to 10 working; and countless others helping your kid, parents, significant other with things that need to be done – you get the picture. From reading “fake news” to playing Candy Crush and watching cat videos – where are you spending your time? Could it be more gratifying reading?
- Make It Easy – Always have a book with you. Or, if not, take advantage of that other thing you always have on hand. Ninety-five percent of Americans now own a mobile phone says The Pew Research Center. There’s a reason why that device is so darn handy. Consider apps and book stores that can make mobile reading on the fly easy.
- Don’t Overthink It – Friends of mine read a novel a week, which is a great aspiration, but for others, finding time to commit to a book a year is a major achievement. With short fiction, and five, 10, or 20-minute reading bursts, you can easily fit reading into your day. Whether it’s in the waiting room, on the train, at your daughter’s hockey practice, simply make a commitment to read at least once a day for your health and happiness.
As the great story writer Flannery O’Connor once opined, “The life you save may be your own.”
Kelly Abbott is a writer; CEO of Great Jones Street, a leading fiction app focused on telling the story of the contemporary human experience via short stories and flash fiction (from the street, to the suburbs, supernatural to steamy) written and produced by today’s most talented and prolific professional authors, and son to Lee K. Abbott, a “not-so-famous-but-critically-acclaimed Story Writer”