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30th March 2024

Reading should be for joy, not health

Moderate reading is the newest wellness hack, and it is setting us up to fail. An introduction to the joys of obsessive reading, and why we should do it.
Reading should be for joy, not health
Credit: Thought Catalog @Pexels

With health and wellness lifestyles back on the rise in our media (although seemingly never on the fall) reading seems to be entering the common discourse as something ‘good’ to do, much like drinking a ginger shot or lighting a candle.

Lifestyle plans such as ‘75-day hard’ details that participants must read at least 10 pages of a book every night, and it’s not the only one. Countless new routines encourage the reading of a random number of pages which often totals to about 15-20 minutes of reading per day, ranging between fiction and non-fiction. This is all in an effort to exercise the mind, to practice concentration, and to elongate our attention spans.

As a reader, reading is something I like to promote, but something I have never understood is why wellness is the reason we promote it. Reading in moderation for the exercise of the mind is not something I practice, and yet I read a lot and enjoy it too – and I think binge reading is the reason why.

Binge reading is something I feel strongly about, it is reading for hours at a time, racing to the end of a book, mentally and emotionally investing to the point of total immersion, and finishing the novel within a matter of days, only to be followed by a bit of a reading slump and a gaping emotional hole of ‘what happened next?’

Now I know that this seems counter-intuitive, but why would you want to willingly place yourself in a reading slump, and why would you want to become borderline obsessed, especially when exams are around the corner? Well, here are my thoughts.

Reading has never (until now) been used for ‘wellness’ or ‘mental training’ or even as a tool for intelligence past a certain age. In short, everyone used to read, and why did they do it? For entertainment. In the same way that we consume TV shows, films, documentaries, and podcasts, reading used to be something used to gain knowledge, or to entertain us.

Reading ten pages a night does the opposite. It is hardly going to extend our attention span if we force ourselves to read only 10 pages a night and then close the book. It means that the entire time we are reading we set ourselves a limit, and therefore our attention span is arguably shorter. By measuring the amount we have read and for how long, constantly, that is arguably more distracting.

Also, books are published as exactly that, a book. All at once. Books are not released serially and therefore are often structured to encourage you to read in chapters (and a good book will encourage you to read many more than just one) as you are meant to want to read more and find a resolution. A book is not working for you if it is a slog to start the next chapter – you are meant to think, one more can’t hurt, the same way that we do with Netflix when it rolls onto the next episode, we are meant to want to know more.

Setting a limit of ten pages (even if they follow with the statement ‘or more!’) limits our want to continue reading, as we see ourselves as hitting a target, rather than consuming a plot or a wealth of information.

For those who don’t like reading, you might be thinking that you find it too difficult to read any more than 10 pages as your concentration wonders or you lose interest, and maybe this is the case for certain books, but I will ask the question, have you ever read a book on holiday?

I am certain that most people have, and often it is finished in a matter of days and is the only book that people read across an entire year and the only one that people enjoy. Most importantly, this book is the only one that people have the capacity to finish, as when they return home it is just too much.

Perhaps this is because on holiday, you have no limit on time or pages, all there is to do is read. Because of this, you become easily immersed (because there is nothing else to think about), you continue turning the pages, and enter the main plot far more quickly, and therefore want to continue to read.

I would argue that it is less about time constraints and more about the mental relationship we have with reading.

As a student, I set myself time limits and I race through texts looking only for relevant and useful plot points, quotes, or theories. But I enjoy a text most when I read for reading’s sake when there is no reason to do it, and when I just want to become immersed in another world for hours at a time.

Therefore, if you are planning on expanding your mind, moderation in my opinion is the opposite of what you should be striving for. Don’t set yourself a target or a limit, but instead read to relax. Tell yourself that this is relaxing and something for your downtime, and you will see it as far less of a task, and the benefits will be far more tangible.

So what is my message? Enjoy the 75-day hard, your new lifestyle, your journey to ‘wellness’ and whatever that entails. Don’t read as a task, read because you want to escape, or you want to learn. Reading should not be a chore, or you will never enjoy it – if you read for enjoyment, it will never be a chore.

Treat reading like Netflix, like a guilty pleasure, and I can guarantee that you will never read so much in your life, and best of all, you will enjoy it because you care. Let it take over your world, and regret it afterwards. Do it again the next week, and suddenly an aspect of your ‘wellness’ journey is something you truly enjoy and will never want to drop.

Read Next: How Goodreads affects my degree: The reality behind reading goals

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