A recent article in the New York Times has attracted hundreds of comments from readers. It is entitled, ‘Why You Should Start Binge-Reading Right Now’.
In the article, author Ben Dolnick describes how during a power cut he turned to a book for entertainment rather than his customary choice of Netflix, and he realised he had ‘been reading the wrong way’. Until then, he had read for ten minutes or so before bed, but when he read for several hours in a stretch, he found that he enjoyed the book far more. He writes:
‘John Gardner, the literary critic, wrote that the job of the novelist is to create a “vivid and continuous dream” for the reader, but I’d somehow developed a case of readerly sleep apnea. I’d gotten into the habit of consuming novels so fitfully that I was all but sealed off from their pleasures.’
The author of the article goes on to advocate ‘binge reading’, by which he means reading for longer and more quickly. I am not sold on the latter; why rush a pleasurable activity and risk missing nuances of meaning and words that may move and inspire you? But I entirely agree that we must read for long periods of time.
It is so easy in this busy modern world to treat a book as you may a mobile phone, picking it up now and again and reading in fits and starts. But then how can you really understand the story, get to know the characters and recognise the overarching themes? More importantly, how can you lose yourself in the story world?
Reading fiction is an escape; you want to be transported to another place and time. Just as watching Netflix will transport you to a fantasy world, so will a novel take you away from the worries and stresses of life – but only if you are prepared to fully immerse yourself in that escape. Watching The Crown for just ten minutes won’t go very far in entertaining or inspiring you, and the same applies to reading.
C.S. Lewis famously wrote, ‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ The beauty of a long book, of course, is that it offers a longer escape; if you read a long book just a few pages at a time, the reading of it becomes a labour, rather than a delight.
I love books with thick spines; I love the knowledge when I open the cover that there are hours of escapism and pleasure ahead for me. I love books with depth, too; books that take you deep into the story world.
For me, perfection is sitting in the garden on a balmy summer’s day reading a novel – not for ten minutes, but an hour or more. Afterwards, when I come back to reality, I am calm and recharged, as if I have been in meditation.
Is devoting time to reading a luxury? I think not – I believe it is essential for the spirit and the mind.