Friday night on the porch. Lemonade with a shot of Hendricks. Feet up in my wicker chair while the rain makes its beautiful music. And a brand new volume of Uncle Walt to annotate and highlight. Curious as to how many of my friends were also spending their Friday night delighting in solitary literary pleasures, i posted the fact on Facebook. I was surprised at how many of my friends enjoyed something similar… And overjoyed that so many obviously knew who Uncle Walt was. (Walt Whitman, for you non-poetry geeks.) But i do have to admit that, before i posted it, i wasn’t sure if the fact made me a geek, or a nerd, or just a dork. I had to look it up. Thankfully, there is a simple Venn diagram to help (This one is courtesy of Laughing Squid).
Truthfully, i wasn’t sure if i was more of a geek or a nerd. But yep, nerd it is. Kind of hard to be a geek and NOT be a nerd, really. I mean, social interaction is difficult when people don’t “get” your Klingon vernacular and Chemistry jokes. I have to say, tho, that it is getting easier, and i believe we have filmmakers to thank for that. I mean, millions of people who never read any Tolkien now understand what all the geek-fuss was about. The Star Wars and Star Trek franchises have made it to mainstream action film lovers. And Marvel… Well, come on… Who wouldn’t want to see Robert Downey Jr’s sexy visage on the big screen? Because of these cinematic successes, people who never would have otherwise are actually reading books! Ok, mostly e-books (My hardline feeling on the distinction will be saved for a later post), but none-the-less, people are reading. How glorious is that?
We all know, as it has been repeated for decades, the benefits of reading to children. But more and more, science is proving that reading as adults has a multitude of advantages as well: Improvements in critical thinking, analysis, vocabulary, writing skill… Not to mention mental focus and stress reduction. (Rather than me posting a solitary website to cite, please GTS. There are articles on it from all corners of the scientific community) And You don’t have to be reading Dostoyevsky or Shakespeare. Non-fiction, poetry (Yes, song lyrics count), self-help (Which is often halfway between fiction and non-), religious texts, cheap romance novels, short stories … Even reading children’s classics has a positive effect. Some studies go as far as to say that in-depth magazine articles make a measurable improvement.
I admit, the last makes me happy. Tho i know it is a sin against Mother Earth, i do enjoy a nice, glossy magazine. Online versions, just like with books, just aren’t the same to me.
Reading makes you smarter. It makes you better able to communicate. It provides entertainment. And it makes you more entertaining at parties because it gives you something to talk about other than TV shows and our volatile Orwellian jello mold of a government. It can also be relatively little cash. I generally buy used books because i prefer hardcover, and those aren’t inexpensive when new. Your local thrift store likely has whole bunches of books on the cheap. And more e-books (Ugh, i just tasted bile) than you’d imagine can be gotten for free on many websites.
If you prefer something more politically relevant, there is Machiavelli if you want to impress people, and Limbaugh if you don’t. And whether you are religious or not, reading religious texts is a good thing because, on top of the benefits of reading, they help you to understand why other people think how they do. (Reminder: You don’t have to agree to understand.) And if you haven’t read one recently, pick up your weedling’s history or Social Science textbook. Things have changed a lot since we were their age. Hell, the globe doesn’t even have the same countries on it.
Before you say you don’t have enough time…. Writers from Stephen King to Rosamunde Pilcher have short story anthologies. And i personally own quite a few compendiums of short stories by groups of authors. There are short novel writers à la Steinbeck and Bach. There are observationalists like Robert Fulghum. If you have a spiritual bent, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa both have books to their credit with short affirmations to consume. There are great articles in National Geographic for the naturalists, and in The New Yorker if you are an urbanite. If you love song lyrics, try some poetry. Pick up some Maya Angelou or Dylan Thomas. So many options, so little time.
If you have some brain wiring that makes reading difficult, try a large print edition or one made specifically for dyslexic readers (They use specific fonts and paper color/types that are known to make it easier). From what i found with a little research, there are a lot of resources out there for you. Do not give up!
If you don’t know what to start with, ask your favorite voracious reader. Tell them the kinds of things you like. Those of us who read a lot are usually pretty good at recommendations. Your librarian or bookstore clerks are good to tap. Or, perhaps my favorite option, What should I read next?, a website where you type in a book that you enjoyed, and it makes recommendations.
So make yourself a cup of tea, or a cocktail, or a special soda, put your feet up somewhere pleasant with good light, and dig in. Even if it is just a chapter a day, it will make a difference. And whether you are like me and have a tendency to highlight and annotate as you read, or you are one of those who tries hard to keep the book like new, there is no wrong way. Just like physical exercise, the what and the how are less important than the fact that you do it.
Now, if you will excuse me, Uncle Walt is waiting. I am counting on him to help keep my brain working as i head toward decrepitude. Well, him and his cousins Heinlein, and Poe, and Allende, and Avi, and Thoreau, and Chopra, and Lawrence, and St Paul, and….