Of Opiates, TV, and Books


2015-08 PicI used to read a lot as a child and teenager. The amount of reading required of elementary, middle and high school never overloaded me enough to take away my pleasure. College, on the other hand, nearly beat the love of reading out of me. After studying the number of textbooks required of a full-time college schedule, the last thing I wanted to do was read – even if for pleasure.

When I started working after college, I found a way to fan the sparks of the dying fire that used to be my passion for reading. Since I took the bus to and from work, I used that time to start reading for pleasure again. I even mastered the art of reading while standing up, hanging on for dear life, while the bus went through endless cycles of stopping and starting.

As my fortunes rose in the form of added responsibility at work, my schedule became more unpredictable and wouldn’t accommodate taking the bus anymore. The increase in duties went hand in hand with an increase in the amount of reading required for work. Reading on the job started taking over just like textbooks had in college and my enthusiasm for reading waned again.

Vacations have helped to keep the fire burning. I always start a new book while on vacation and if I don’t finish reading it before I come home, the fun of the vacation continues until I get to the end of the book.

I don’t watch a lot of television. Even so, I use it like many others do – to chill out at the end of a busy day. At the beginning of the year, I found myself utterly bored with everything on TV – and I mean everything. Usually, I can find something to watch to relax with before I go to bed, but nothing fits the bill anymore. New shows don’t interest me and reruns of old favorites feel done to death. The void left is palpable. That makes me sound like a crack addict without a fix and the truth is that is how I feel.

One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons is where Calvin is reading from a book and he says, “It says here that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses.’ …What do you suppose that means?” In the next frame there’s a picture of a TV ‘thinking’ this response, “It means Karl Marx hadn’t seen anything yet.” Had I been victim to the intoxicating allure of television all these years and kidding myself that I could take it or leave it? Like an alcoholic who has a moment of clarity during a dry spell, I saw that I had to put the ‘cup of television’ down and take a new path to sobriety and I vowed the path would be paved with books. The path hasn’t been easy.

To reinforce my decision, I set a goal to read twelve books this year thinking one book per month is the minimum required to maintain a healthy reading life. According to my tally on Goodreads, I’ve read four books and am three books behind in reaching my goal by the end of this year. The challenge is in trying to get excited about picking up a book after reading for the majority of an eight hour workday. The good news is that it’s getting easier. Once I get over the hurdle of opening a book outside of work, it’s not difficult to enjoy what I’m reading. But man! Getting over that hurdle is sometimes like trying to jump over the Empire State Building.

Since I don’t have the leaping ability of Superman, I have some devices I employ to give me a lift. One is to keep my current book as visible as possible so it doesn’t become out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind. Another is to take it to a room to read away from where I usually watch TV. That way, I don’t feel drawn to my old habit. Third, I bargain with myself to say I’ll only read for ten minutes and even set a timer. With this one I find that I often get engaged with the book and read beyond the time limit I set. I’ll gladly take suggestions for other ways to keep at it.

As I progress, I wonder if I’ll become as addicted to books as I have been to television. Since I’ve never heard anyone told they read too many books, I think I can live with that.

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