If you are like most Americans, you feel exhausted after work – mentally, physically drained.
A friend told me once she feels all too often ’brain dead’ when she comes home. (She’s a medical professional). Reading any book seems out of the question. She’ll choose a TV show anytime over reading a book.
We used to read a lot when we were younger. Or we made plans to plow through books on our wish list. What happened to us?
We grew up. We got jobs. kids. And our brains froze.
You might say you don’t have the time. But how can that be? America’s favorite pastime is binge-watching shows, for hours on end. It takes a lot of time to binge-watch favorite shows.
Now I’m a fan of some of these shows. (The French Village is one of my favorites). There are some very good productions out there, worth watching. But the habit of binge-watching TV shows, as I explain here, may in fact fatigueour minds in the long run. I think it’s a lot like coffee (again, I love coffee, especially Ohori’s in Santa Fe NM): you get an artificial boost, but not real wakefulness.
If you’re feeling ‘brain dead’ at this stage in your life, what can be done? Every now and then, you can try something different.
Take up a great book, and read it slowly with others.
Here I am, again, tooting my horn from the back row: “Read great books!” It must seem a bit silly, or at any rate tone deaf. Who has the energy for these books, if most of us can’t summon the will to read any book?
You may have more energy than you think. The key is: try reading with other people. Converse, don’t ”discuss”. A conversation needs some skin in the game, unlike a discussion, which holds ‘topics’ at arms length. That is, in a conversation, you feel like something is at stake, and the questions you ask are genuinely your own questions, not ‘talkingpoints.’ Here are some other tips: Make sure to stay on topic, as you converse (easier said than done), and allow the author a voice in the conversation too. This is important. Be the host of the book, don’t give up, and resolve to meet each week together.
Martin Buber used to talk about the power that genuine meeting has, and he’s right.
Read 5 pages per week or maybe 10. None too much. An amount you can work on together right on the spot. One more thing, perhaps the most important tip of all: try to understand the author or text as it understand itself.
But observe what happens when you converse then: when you read the text together, and you work together to make heads or tails of it, watch how many times you go back to the text and reread it. In effect, by the end of your conversation, you will have read those 5 pages a hundred times over.
Slow reading means shorter readings, but this is the deepest kind of reading.
Sort of like a book club, but supercharged?
It almost doesn’t matter what you’re reading, as long as it challenges you and your friends to lay bare the fundamental questions and think freshly. It could be Machiavelli, Don Quixote, Aristotle, Vergil’s Aeneid.
Just what the doctor ordered, to jumpstart the grey matter.
Conversation is what some would say is a nonlinear process, full of surprising twists and turns. Decidedly different from the experience of a lecture or a TV show (which is also linear). Conversation exercises your imagination, your memory, your intellect, and even your emotions. Even though the conversation is ‘intellectual’, It gets you outside your head, listening to others speak and raise questions, but also joining them in raising questions. (I would not be surprised if a neurologist discovers that dialogue promotes “neuro-plasticity.”)
Slow reading is like a gym or exercise studio for your mind. The long range benefits you get from this simple weekly practice will be one of the greatest investments in your mental health and your well-being you can make. Don’t let yourself go.