During this pandemic summer, it becomes important to reorient ourselves to reinvigorating activities that launch us with expectation into the next season. For those that will stay at home, books have taken on a new meaning within a summer of tentative re-openings and continued social distancing. In one sense, fully immersive experiences that are altogether new and nostalgic with sentiments of escapist imagination are needed within our current landscape.
According to the latest research from the American Psychological Association, trends with high school students indicate that less than 20% of America’s teens are reading a book, newspaper, or magazine each day for pleasure whereas a contrasting 80% are using their social media daily. “Compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television,” said Dr. Jean M. Twenge, author of the book iGen and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV.” As usage rates of digital media went up in the last three decades, so too did the enjoyment of print media decrease during leisure time.
In many ways, fictional literature is a form of expression, artwork, perception, and understanding that calls us to accept it with affection. Reading fiction allows us to improve in our own capacity to step into someone else’s perspective, understand social situations more effectively, and learn to cultivate a sense of societal awareness as we digest others’ thoughts and emotions. Even in a pretend realm of fictional accounts, we can still track with the characters’ concerns and struggles, joys and hopes, and all of the related nuances in the fine print of their social dynamics that give us valuable insight into our common humanity within the world.
Here are several relevant reasons why fictional literature can become an important past-time:
Dr. Daniel Willingham, psychologist at the University of Virginia, states that a key component to reading well is “motivation - you have to have a positive attitude toward reading and a positive self-image as a reader.” Many parents typically experience overwhelm with all of the current research that highlights how a child’s reading is linked to greater academic achievement, executive functioning skills, testing success, and overall emotional well-being, and it creates an obligation for them to present reading to their kids as chocolate cake rather than spinach. Those that benefit from the discipline of reading will have positive later-in-life outcomes as well.
With family obligations, work schedules, chores, and errands - will giving ourselves to the works of fiction actually be fruitful or insignificant? In many ways, reading literature is about absorption - about being lost in a story, delighting in the author’s carefully crafted prose, and enjoying the nature of the writing. American novelist Flannery O’Connor commented, “The fact is, people don’t know what they are expected to do with a novel, believing, as so many do, that art must be utilitarian, that I must do something, rather than be something.”
Editor for the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin writes about the lack of concentration in The Lost Art of Reading:
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to to merge with the consciousness of another human being… In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
The main point is to find time and read. Often, literature can carry just enough instruction to cause reflection and planning about family, job, and life priorities with renewed energy and clear focus on the primary goals. This requires thought for us to:
Literature is life, and the rewards of reading fictional literature are tremendous. It helps to humanize us. It energizes our understanding and creates awareness of ourselves and others while it expands our own range of experiences. It enlarges compassion for people and awakens our imaginations as it draws us into a sense of beauty and brings us a form of constructive entertainment. Just as much as facts, literature invites us into an experiential knowledge of life and gives us important perspective in this season. Have a wonderful summer filled with the joy of reading!!!