By Madeline Perez
Let me be clear. I am NOT like other girls. I don’t spend my time applying make-up and being conventionally attractive. I don’t own a hairdryer, can’t do dishes, and am able to read an analog clock. Every day, I throw my humble brunette locks into a messy bun and put on clothes that leave everything to the imagination until I am nothing more than an idea. I am cynical and satirical and refuse to stoop to the vulnerabilities of saying what I mean, though I still believe I am the most genuine person I know. Though an air of despondency hangs around me, I can rest assured knowing there is one factor, above all else, that separates me from the phonies and femmes alike: my literacy.
While the sheepish mobs are busy watching television meant to brainwash them into complacency, I expand my infinity brain by consuming media in a different way. Through BOOKS. You may not have heard of them, being you only know things like iPad, iPhone, and iPod shuffle. Books are REAL things made of DEAD TREES that you CANNOT CLICK. I make sure to carry one on me at all times, lest a normie mistakes my aloof atmosphere as an invitation for conversation. (DON’T INTERRUPT MY BROODING.) I am actually a lot like Holden Caulfield (not that you would even know who that is, deeming my simile pointless), being that I am the only real person in a sea of pretenders and fakes. It’s enough to drive you insane, which society already thinks I am. But to me, society is the one that’s insane, and I am the only truly “normal” thing about it.
Being a “reader” has a lot of weird connotations. People assume readers are smart, educated, and tend to get an ego complex in the presence of someone independently reading. This normally goes as follows:
“Wow, that’s a big book you have there, that must be heavy to carry around! Haha, but seriously, what are you reading? Animal Farm? Wow, that’s crazy. You know, I used to be a lot like you. I used to read so much. It’s a wonder why I don’t read as much as I used to. You know what? I’m going to get back on the book train! That’s right, I’m going to start reading every day before bed since books don’t emit blue light that tricks your eyes into staying awake longer. You know, I had this cousin once–”
And so on and so forth. This script that people follow isn’t themselves talking; It’s a result of years of societal messaging about how reading is good and makes you smart and is necessary to keep your mind sharp. It’s only my assumption that, knowing this, people feel threatened when they see someone reading in the wild, kind of like how I feel threatened when I see someone wearing their retainer like they’re supposed to. But is any of this true? Is reading good? Could it be bad? Should I stop using rhetorical questions every single time I’m about to make a point? Like the eternally wise words of one of the Magic 8 Ball’s twenty predetermined responses, “Answer not clear.” There are no definite answers to these questions, as they don’t exist in black and white, but let’s dive into them anyway. Let’s tackle these 50 Shades of Grey.
Reading is a form of entertainment. Reading books is essentially media consumption in the same way that television, magazines, and radio are media consumption. While television tends to get the short end of the stick, reading is put on an undeserved pedestal. It’s seen as lazy, unhealthy, and worrying to watch television for 8 hours a day, which it is; you desperately need to touch grass. Meanwhile, reading for 8 hours in a day is more often interpreted as impressive, as most well-adjusted people would not want to do that. This is because watching television and listening to things is passive—you don’t need to work very hard to pay attention, and your brain engages in less cognitive processing. Meanwhile, reading is active—it exercises the imagination, increases language comprehension and fluency, and can activate neural pathways that can make us feel as if we’re actually experiencing the story. There’s no question about it, the science is already out: Television kills you, reduces your brain’s gray matter, and makes you fat; reading improves your cognition, memory, and gets you hoes. Wait, not that last one. I meant to say it increases your empathetic capabilities through the theory of mind concept.
Wow. After all that science it’s going to be a lot harder to argue my point, but God willing, I’ll still try. Many studies and articles out there assume that television must be overstimulating, shallow, and less thought-provoking. Meanwhile, it’s assumed that books are more calming, provide in-depth character analysis, and are more factually correct. While this is a common trend, it’s not always the case; this all depends on the type of media you’re actually consuming. There exists television that increases your knowledge and can calm you. It can make you think about your values, your life, and your relationships with those around you. (Have you ever heard of the movie Joker? It says a lot about society.) On the other hand, books can be just as good at perpetuating harmful ways of thinking and shallowly wasting your time. Many stated benefits of reading come from the thought that goes into it, the book being a comprehension puzzle you need to solve. This is what keeps your mind sharp. If the book is not intellectually challenging enough, many of those benefits are lost, and you are left with a form of entertainment only marginally better for you than good television.
Many have joked about the praise they’ve received for “being a good reader,” while the other person remains oblivious to the fact they are essentially reading “smut,” or sexually vulgar literature. And herein lies the natural progression from book enjoyer to porn junkie many innocent women fall victim to. It’s an insidious pipeline, especially when many more popular or heavily marketed books for women rely on the sexual crutch. Here’s where the double standard between books and other media seems most apparent, as adult books containing sexual themes are seen as non-threatening while visually erotic material would never be left out in the open in some sort of breakroom or child’s playpen. I have no qualms against people who enjoy this material but only ask for their introspection on whether reading porn for four hours was beneficial to them and their life mission. Of course, I am consistent in my belief that detailed sex should be banned from most books, as well as television, movies, and real life.
I got a little off-topic there, but let’s get back to the issue at hand. The benefits of reading can vary depending on how one consumes the book. No, I am not talking about literally eating paper, as much as I would like to. Skimming over passages and not taking the time to process what you’re reading will obviously not do you much good. By contrast, really concentrating on an audiobook and putting in the work to stay engaged can lead to a better memory of what was said and still help exercise your cognition. Television is challenging to derive as many benefits, cognitive-wise, but it can influence your thinking and leave as much of an impact on you as any book, just as long as you’re watching the right things and processing them afterward. What are “the right things?” Sorry, I said I would stop with the rhetorical questions. The “right things” expose you to new information, worldviews, and exercise your brain’s thinking-muscles.
Educational television, like documentaries, can be good for your mind while still leaving you entertained and happy. Contrary to how college makes you feel, learning and understanding new things should lead to an increase in dopamine, the major neurotransmitter of your brain’s reward system. Learning more about the world, as well as yourself, can help you feel fulfilled after a novel experience. This goes the same for books, math problems, and the articles I write and publish in this magazine. And only those things.
Ok, so I’ve established how reading can be bad and television can be good, as opposed to everything you’ve ever learned. That doesn’t change the fact that society still sees excessive reading as the thing smart, weird people do. And why is that again? Oh yeah, because excessive reading is hard, and excessive television watching is not. Unless… unless the material you’re reading is not intellectually challenging you and is a preferred form of entertainment. Unless you have essentially trained your mind to be able to focus on books for long periods of time, making reading amounts that would be hard for others a part of your routine. This is essentially the trick. Independent reading comes naturally if you do it every day. You don’t have to be any smarter or better at focusing, you just have to be committed.
I have never seen anyone criticize excessive reading, which is why I find it necessary to start now. While most other unsocial attention-based activities, like television, social-media use, and video games, are constantly under fire (and rightfully so), reading seems to always get the metaphorical get-out-of-jail-free card. But here’s the thing—not all reading is created equal. Not all reading is good for you, and excessive reading should be called out every once in a while for what it is: a glorified form of escapism. It is not “quirky” to spend the entire day in your room reading, just as much as it’s not “quirky” to spend the day reading memes off your phone. It can be harmful to you and keep you from living your own life, having your own experiences, rather than the kinds you read about in your books. And that’s not to say I’m perfect, I’m only writing this so people don’t do the same stuff I did. Don’t get me wrong, reading is good for you, but just like everything else, should be done in moderation. Except for reading my articles, which you should do at every possible opportunity, over and over again, indefinitely.