Elizabeth Dunn is a Ph.D. student in information science at the University of North Texas. She also works as the marketing and communications manager for the College of Graduate Studies at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Tex.
This is my favorite time of year. For me, the holiday season is filled with feelings of nostalgia, familiar traditions and a focus on the very best traits of mankind: giving, listening and being together. During our times of togetherness, we share stories, thoughts and viewpoints. Unlike in the very divisive digital environment, where social media and predictive analysis forces us into our own like-minded corners, family dinners and office parties force us to sit down with those who may share very different views on and interactions with the world (like my dad, who still refuses to use a debit card and carries a flip phone). There aren’t very many times like this in our modern life, and sometimes we even purposely avoid such uncomfortable settings. But during the holidays, the collaborative sharing of stories and ways of old can provide a powerful reminder that not all bygones should be bygones.
A very dear, wise and wonderful friend recently shared with me a tidbit that she had heard at a book festival. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was that in this day and time, the very act of reading a whole book (committing one’s mind and attention to following a single story from cover to cover) is revolutionary. Sound less than revolutionary? It’s not. As I mentioned in a previous post, our human attention span is being conditioned to be shorter. The simple goldfish, intricately iridescent as he may be, now surpasses us on average attention span. We are constantly flipping between microblogs, tabs, tasks and focus. We’ve become informational grazers: constantly foraging bite-size snippets of information provides sustenance via a quick Google search. We devour the information and we move to the next bite. As grad students, we read extensively, but we are not immune to this. In consideration of time, have you ever scanned research articles or textbooks, looking for and taking just the information that served your purpose? Now that I think about it, when I do this, I find that I frequently miss something else that was important or I didn’t get the whole story. It makes me wonder if this habit of fleeting commitment is near the root of so many issues in our society … romantic relationships, families, friendships and even the simple yet sophisticated human act of carrying on an uninterrupted, connected conversation. We miss the whole story. We miss what is important.
This holiday season, I challenge you to commit yourself to the old-fashioned practice of reading a book just for pleasure. A real book: one that is outside your scholarly domain of knowledge, or preferably above it. Learn something new, be it leadership strategy, conspiracy theory or the science of the Great Barrier Reef. Commit yourself to the bygone act of reading that book from start to finish. If the holiday season has you feeling particularly nostalgic, pass on the ebook and grab the old-fashioned kind. (Bonus: there are real benefits to retention and health when reading a traditional book. Plus, there are no ads!) Reading for pleasure isn’t for naught: upping or expanding your reading level increases your intelligence (and conveniently, what you learn may also serve as conversational fodder during those holiday parties). Most of us have at least a little break as the old year takes a bow and leaves the stage. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it so much, you’ll consider book reading for one of your New Year’s resolutions. The revolutionary act of reading a book may have a much bigger impact on your life than what you think.
What books are on your holiday reading list?