I love to ask people what they read for fun. I’m usually in pursuit of a good book recommendation. But more often than not, people simply admit that they don’t read for fun. Some say that they don’t have time for it. Others cite assigned readings. The most honest ones confess that they’d rather watch TV or hang out with friends. But I’m here to make the case for reading for pleasure, for leisure, for fun, for all of the above.
My reading habit is a permanent part of my bedtime routine, but it seems many have grown out of the practice of reading regularly for pure enjoyment. I’m lucky to have two grandmothers who serve as models of life-long readers. Within five minutes of talking to my grandmother, she’ll recommend a book to you.
I follow my grandmother’s simple philosophy on reading: reading should never be work. We both read multiple books at a time—as soon as reading one book begins to feel like work, we pick up another. We’ll either come back to the book or we won’t. This philosophy runs counter to what most of us have been taught in school: that there are books we must read, that we must finish, regardless of whether or not we like them. This is why I am wary of literature classes. I don’t want any assigned books impinging on my reading time or my love for reading. I think it is a small tragedy that our generation equates reading with work, rather than with play or imagination.
I prefer books for a myriad of reasons. A book, unlike a film or TV show, is a collaboration between reader and author. While the author provides the words, the structure, the plot, you—the reader—are responsible for unfurling their world, imagining the details, conjuring up the feelings. Reading cannot be a purely passive task. If this is beginning to sound like work, I stress that the collaborative element of a good novel enhances the experience. As Maryanne Wolfe, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, puts it, when we read, “we are forced to construct, to produce narrative, to imagine.” This immersive sensation is not illusory: Dr. Gregory Berns, a distinguished neuroeconomist, notes, “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist… We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
The books you read in your free time need not be brag-worthy. I will be the first to admit that 90% of the books I read for fun are romance or fantasy novels. I read not for any sort of intellectual enlightenment, but rather for the joy of the journey. I read because it’s a delicious undertaking. I read to submerge myself in new worlds. I read to become other people momentarily. I read to lose myself and to find a new perspective. My personal reading philosophy involves a distinction between candy (pure escapism) and vegetable (I’ll learn something too!) books. I try to maintain a mix of both.
How to find time to read more? My habit is simple. I reserve 20-40 minutes to read before I plan on falling asleep. Sometimes this winds up being more like five minutes, but even that amount of time is enough to prime my body to fall into a deep sleep. A study from the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading was enough to reduce stress by 68%, better than any other tested stress reliever.
And if you need a book recommendation, just ask! My email is email@example.com.