Books Got Back

A book I hand-crafted as a birthday gift for my girlfriend.

Books. A weird word if I start to think about it. Maybe because they've been becoming strangers to me over the last 16 years. I guess somewhere along the way, books became subconsciously tagged as boring. Though recently, I've been coming home with armfuls of books from Powell's. After a decade of school, the thought of reading on my own accord had left a bitter taste. But now I've phased out television to catch up with an old friend.

The Decline of Reading

As a child, I used to spend the whole of my summer days cooped inside the house. I mean, I still do. But I used to too. In elementary school, I'd borrow books by the dozens to complete my local library's summer reading program. You see, they gave free T-shirts. So I'd read in my room while the sun's gold creeped from outside. In middle school, I'd read articles about human anatomy and physiology (and no, my Asian parents did not force me) from an encyclopedia CD on my computer, paraphrasing the text and jotting down rough diagrams into my notebook of knowledge.

In late middle school, I started to care about what peers thought of me. I didn't want to be a nerd anymore, though any attempts to become cool were highly in vain. Reading became lame. I remember a parent-teacher conference at the very end of middle school with my homeroom teacher. He asked me something like whether I was going to read over the summer, and I responded "nah, I never read" as if it was a badge of pride.

What I thought was cool was putting as little effort into school as possible (though maintaining a four-point on the side). I see some of it in my brothers now. One would say "pfft, reading" as I bring home a bunch of books. They also maintain stellar grades, but maybe that's not so good. For those where school came easy to them, good grades became a false indicator that they did not need to try as hard. They need not pursue their own education as they excelled in the system's education.

Fast forward to college, and dry textbooks were being crammed down my neck, inflicting me with such a parched throat. Why spend the leisurely hours reading when that's what you do all day as work? A benefit of books is that they bring an escape, but the benefit is lost when the escape is from other books.

The Books Strike Back

So here I am. Reading books again. Much of the reason is for well-being. I wanted to phase out after-work TV habits. TV is a mind-numbing activity, and binge watching Orange is the New Black wasn't doing it for me. According to Happiness and Economics published by the Princeton University Press in 2002, the average American spends two months per year watching television.

Although it's intuitive, a study by the University of Maryland called What Do Happy People Do?, found a negative correlation between time spent watching TV and happiness. It sucks up time, and besides watching the occasional trendy show, it provides little emotional payoff.

Books naturally became an brilliant alternative. Like television, it provides a great way to wind down after work, taking my mind off of everything else to just focus on a story. But unlike television, it is intellectually stimulating . And because the medium of television is through a flashing screen, it makes a poor pre-sleep activity as it makes it difficult to fall asleep.

And honestly, books have better entertainment value. The experience of getting sucked into a page-turner is more gratifying than getting sucked into binge watching. In a TV show, all you know about a character is from what you see, but in a book, you live in a character's head for hundreds of pages, becoming much more attuned to their emotions. My intention from watching TV shows was to hear a good story, books do a better job at telling them.

What am I reading now? A lot of Hugo-y science fiction (Hyperion, Dune), photography, self-help entrepreneurial and finance, travel, and poker strategy. I feel sort of cheesy writing this whole perhaps pretentious post since everyone already knows how healthy books are. But walking through Powell's City of Books, getting lost in its aisles, I just think: "a whole life ahead of me, all of these books to read, these worlds to explore, I could get used to this". Besides, I like writing; it's only natural that I get back to reading.


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