“I’m not much of a reader.” This was my usual, embarrassed response when others asked if I had read a particular book or beloved series. Since I’m someone who loves to write and to learn, this hidden fact surprised people. I was not proud of this fact—I had plenty of books on my “to read” list and wished I could put “loves curling up with a good book” in my bio. There are a plethora of reasons why being “a reader” seemed better than admitting to not being one, but none of them were compelling enough for me to crack open a book and carry on reading it just for pleasure. Friends often assured me I just hadn’t found the right book yet, but that didn’t seem to be it, either.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like reading. But I’m a slow reader and, until recently, had hundreds of pages of required reading every week. Blame college and graduate school, but the truth was that reading seemed more like a chore than an enjoyment. Plus, being a slow reader not only left me endlessly yet frustratingly awaiting more, but it also contributed to a sense of FOMO. Reading a book took so long for me, and it was hard not to think of everything else I could be doing in the minutes and hours that ticked away while I was trying to read. Whether it was cooking, cleaning, catching up on my favorite TV series, working out, or having fun, there always seemed to be something better I could be doing than reading. I listened to audiobooks while cooking or cleaning, queued up podcasts while running, and read magazines in waiting rooms. I fit my “reading” in by multitasking, so sitting down with a book “just because” seemed like something I didn’t have time for.
I had a perfect opportunity and impetus to change my self-appointed “non-reader” status shortly after finishing graduate school. After moving to a new city where I didn’t know many people, the one friend I made invited me to join her book club. I secretly cringed. I was definitely in need of new friends, but I knew I was not a reader so book club didn’t exactly sound appealing to me. I knew I either had to admit my non-reader status or change my ways. Yet even without graduate school reading assignments weighing me down, I still wasn’t interested in reading for fun. So, I bashfully offered my usual response to my new friend.
Instead of reading, I found myself scrolling through social media when I got a break from work or as “me time” during my daughter’s nap. As soon as I had a quiet moment before bed or sat down to recharge between chores, out came my phone, almost instinctively. Whether I was on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Snapchat, the mindless scrolling that I thought would give my mind an enjoyable break only ended up making me feel that I had wasted more time. It wasn’t that my goal during those five to twenty minutes was to be productive—in fact, it was the opposite. Whether it was before bed or in the middle of the day, those moments were intended to be quiet, recharging, and unproductive. Yet my social scrolling never left me feeling refreshed. If anything, it made me feel more drained.
One particularly exhausting day of trying to balance new motherhood and work, I plopped down on the couch, feeling defeated by another naptime battle. A book on my coffee table that had been given to me as a new mom beckoned to me. Its title was exactly what I needed to hear: You’ve Got This, Mama. Uncharacteristically, I picked it up. I found myself turning page after page. To be sure, it’s an incredibly easy read. But I couldn’t believe how much more recharged I felt when my baby girl woke up thirty minutes later than I did when I had “relaxed” with social media.
Intrigued by this feeling, I decided to pick up the book on my bedside table that had been collecting dust before I went to bed. Not only did it help me mentally wind down from the day rather than “catching up” on my Instagram feed, but reading for enjoyment actually felt like self-care. Soon enough, I found myself craving to read a book, whether I had five minutes or fifty. Diving into the pages of a book felt so luxurious—like I actually had time, even when I felt like I didn’t. Even though I’m not doing anything “productive” in both cases, taking a break from my world and the world wide web by reading feels indulgent—like true self-care. In a world in which I can flip through Facebook while I wait in line at Starbucks, sitting down to read a book allows me to carve out time for mental quiet time and stillness. In a world in which I work on a screen, stepping away from one during breaks makes that time feel special. In a world in which I am reminded of my daily duties and to-dos by my phone and computer even when I am taking a break browsing the Internet, having my nose in a book allows me to truly escape mentally.
Of course, I still go on social media from time to time, and I didn’t turn into Matilda overnight. I’m still not the fastest reader; the difference is that now I am not reading like I’m in a race. Since I’m reading for enjoyment, it doesn’t matter if I finish five pages or fifty in the time I have. And it seems that it is precisely this shift in my mindset that has allowed me to enjoy the books that I couldn’t get into before. I still read mostly non-fiction books—about parenting, psychology, faith, or relationships—but viewing them as a break rather than a duty has allowed me to enjoy books and truly dive into them.
The ubiquitousness of screens and social media is not going away anytime soon. And I’m certainly not a Luddite who’s cursing technology. It’s precisely the fact that technology is everywhere and ever-increasing that I found reading a good ol’ book to be a respite. Even if you like the convenience of reading on a Kindle or tablet, I expect the act of reading itself—not for an assignment, but just because—can likely recharge your battery the way it recharged mine. Social media might seem to be more of the mind-numbing break your overworked brain needs. But escaping into a book allows you to momentarily leave this world rather than being consumed by it. I promise, your social media feed will be waiting for you when you get back.