WHILE WE WERE away recently, I was interested to read an article by Johann Hari in the i newspaper. He was talking about the value of reading, in particular reading a physical paper book, and how it ‘gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration’. It wasn’t a tirade against the Internet but rather a plea for balance, and the value of reading without distraction.
Because most of the time, we are distracted.
‘If you read a book with your laptop thrumming at the other side of the room, it can feel like trying to read in the middle of a busy party, where everyone is shouting to each other. To read, you need to slow down. You need mental silence except for the words. That’s getting harder to find.’– Johann Hari (article here)
He quoted a fair amount from David Ulin’s book The Lost Art of Reading – Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time. I’ve not read this book, but I want to, and have wanted to since I read about it previously, in another article.
I thrive on variety and communication in many ways. But sometimes it can become so much the norm that I forget how to withdraw into a quiet place and feel contented doing so. It’s so easy, in a free five minutes or a quick coffee break to check emails, Twitter or Facebook. The article was well-timed for me – my deliberate withdrawal during our break from all these things helped me regain the ability for quiet focus, curled up reading a book without buzz – whether actual physical buzz or simply the buzzing in my head.
I’ve tried to continue it on returning home – taking care to use my break periods as times where I don’t switch on the computer but instead sit down with a book or indeed another task or hobby which requires quiet depth of concentration, instead of constant multitasking and busy-ness. Of course, often in these ‘breaks’ previously I have blogged – which may mean my number of entries may decrease or be less in depth – so be it. Also I feel more able to write in a focused way and I want to prioritise that as my activity.
(Had an idea for a novel while away – am unusually besotted with it and have already written two chapters. Usually I cringe at my own fiction writing but I appear, finally, to have found my voice. It feels extraordinarily releasing.)
So I appreciate the art of reading and the depth of concentration it offers – also other things that require me to be alone with myself. We’re not as good at being alone with ourselves as we used to be, it seems – it’s not just about reading, is it? But it is a good example.
‘Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.’– David Ulin