The truth is, everyone needs an escape. Our American culture is largely based on escape. Our incredibly unmanageable national and personal debt reflect our need to escape reality regularly and live beyond our means. Our addiction to foreign oil, our cars and traveling constantly (even if part of this is in order to earn a living), our habitual use of electricity, electronics, our willingness to spend thousands of dollars we may or may not have on gadgets, movies, shows, entertainment of any and all varieties, our addiction to eating, to dieting, to exercise, to slothfulness, all represent our need for escape from the regularly scheduled obligations of our lives, and our attempting, over and over again, to find balance in our means of escape. What has been missing in the lives of most people I know of late is the old-fashioned art of, well, reading. I know the internet has made more material available than ever before to read and review, digest and research. Yet the art of just finding a book, sitting down and curling your legs underneath you, perhaps sipping on a coffee or tea, and getting lost in a great book is slowly eroding.
The electronic reading devices are making reading somewhat more "hip" these days, but I still miss the fact that people used to talk about books all the time. We share common cultural knowledge with one another in the form of movies, restaurants, television shows and music, but the information we share about reading is slowing way down.
Oprah's Book Club was not a reflection of the tremendous amount of reading that was being done in this country but rather Oprah's response to the lack of reading she perceived in the world around her.
The book clubs that have since been spawned are wonderful, but I can't help but think that the slow, steady, quiet, and personal art of reading is something so vibrant and so rich for people that if we don't salvage it, this will be a tragedy beyond measure.
Opening and getting lost in a good book is one of the best forms of escape that is available to people. The calmness of reading can slow down your breathing and your heart rate, acting as a channel through which you can relax, calm down, and even get into a meditative state of mind. Reading before bed might put you sleep, but if you take some time to do it, you could conceivably find the ideal way to push aside the worries and problems of the day and relax yourself into the perfect state of mind to drift off into dreamland.
Envisioning characters and scenarios can stretch your imagination in ways that seeing it through the eyes of a movie director never can. Reading can open your mind to other cultures, periods in history, give you compassion for some things that others have experienced and give you wisdom and insight for yourself and your own troubles.
Crying while reading is highly underestimated. Some of the most cathartic moments of my life have been spent weeping while reading, feeling finally, finally, someone is speaking to the most unspeakable parts of myself; that I can finally find some words for the wordless emotion coursing through me, endlessly.
So remember reading is not just something to teach your kids and push them to do during the summer. Reading is still one of the greatest escapes we have, and we should take it with us as we fly into the future.
Aimee Boyle is a regular contributor to EmpowHER.
Edited by Jody Smith