On the radio the other day, someone was talking about getting “unplugged” to read paper books. As a writer, and a reader, my ears pricked up.
The person on the radio explained that she usually reads on her phone, but when she does, she is also plugged in to message alerts and Facebook notifications etc. and doesn’t really give the reading her full attention. But what stops her from reading paper books, she said, was dealing with the guilt of being unplugged.
I wonder what’s happened to our priorities when it feels wrong to be unplugged from the digitally connected world. For pleasure or to grow our minds, what is the problem with reading a book?
Writers need to read. No question. And they need to read widely. Yet her statement about guilt had a certain ring to it.
I’m not constantly plugged in digitally (to which frustrated friends and associates who labour to get hold of me will attest). So I don’t feel any guilt about being unplugged.
But, I have to admit, I do feel guilty about taking time to read.
When I plan my day, reading is seldom, if ever, on the list as an option. I do read. Usually around one fiction book every three weeks and non-fiction in between, but that reading is reserved for before bed or with my morning coffee — a luxury or a reward for an otherwise productive day.
Admittedly, if I get to the point in a novel when the book won’t allow itself to be put down, then I might spend the morning, or stay up late and finish it. And occasionally, I will “allow” myself the luxury of a day with a book. But I do feel guilty when I do that. I feel guilty about all the things I should have done with that time in the same way as I would admonish myself for playing computer solitaire.
Reading is not a luxury
It’s time, I believe, for giving my head a good shake. Reading, especially for a writer, is not a luxury. It is as necessary as writing or editing.
And I’m not just talking reading as research. Reading other writers is hugely important. It’s important to see what my contemporaries are doing. What’s winning prizes. It’s important to read as a writer. I have a notebook next to my bed where I make notes about things I want to remember or revisit. I list every book I read and the author and date. I keep notes like: Page 57 – good child’s perspective on death.
So if reading is so necessary a part of my writing life, why the guilt?
My brain seems to find it acceptable to read a book on plot or the latest copy of Quill and Quire to stay abreast of what’s happening in the writing world. It’s reading for pure pleasure that seems somehow different. Hmmmm…
For me, I think it’s time to move all reading into the “acceptable past-time category”. It’s time to ditch the guilt. It’s time to head over to Goodreads and pick my next book!