Time Is Unkind To The Harried Mind

Bob James

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Time is unkind to the harried mind, filling it each passing day with the detritus of the moment.

— Richard Seaver

Book reading by Americans has nosedived in the past five years, according to a new Gallup poll.

While, on average, Americans read 12 books in 2021, that's three fewer than in 2016.

Pollsters attribute the drop to the ready availability of other entertainments. Poor education doesn't factor into the decline: the steepest falloff in book reading was among college graduates.

Age doesn't either: Americans 55 and older—traditionally the most voracious book readers—read the same number of books, on average, as all other Americans.

Whether you point the finger at Netflix, Nintendo, or Facebook, the trend should worry you.

Related: Life's A Big Canvas

The fewer books we read, the poorer our worlds become. The fewer books we read, the shorter our attention spans grow. And the fewer books we read, the more hidebound we're apt to be.

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one," says fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.

I get why TV, games and social media are crowding out books. They're a fast-acting anesthesia.

Books, on the other hand, can burden you—especially if they're well written. They can tax your thought, shake your faith, wake you up, or give you nightmares.

And unlike the crap on this month's Netflix menu, there's no lack of good books to read.

Identifying good books is easy:

  • Explore series. Great series abound. I love Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander.
  • Explore prize winners. I have never read a Pulitzer or Booker prize-winning book that wasn't great.
  • Explore individual authors. Choose an exceptional author and read every book he or she has written. I've done that with William Faulkner, John Updike, Philip Roth, and Richard Ford, and am doing it now with Erik Larson. You won't be disappointed.
  • Explore sub-genres. Pick a genre (sci-fi or history or memoir, for example) and then a sub-genre (dystopian sci-fi or historical westerns or celebrity memoirs) and read the most popular book by each of the sub-genre's foremost authors.
  • Explore classics. They're classics for a reason, so find out why. Just for starters, read Dracula, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Oil!, The Scarlet Letter, Treasure Island, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Secret Agent, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Breakfast at Tiffany's, A Farewell to Arms, The Long Goodbye, Eye of the Needle, The Time Machine, Outerbridge Reach, Moby Dick, Catch-22, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Trout Fishing in America, The Moviegoer, Worlds' Fair, From the Terrace, The Wonder Boys, Nausea, White Noise, Amsterdam, Deliverance, The Killer Angels, The Razor's Edge, On the Road, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, A River Runs Through It, Crossing to Safety, Slaughterhouse-Five, War and Remembrance, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

And good books are handy and cheap. Use your local library and check out online seller, if you don't believe me.

Make it your goal to read at least three books every month.

Do so, and you can boast to your friends and family that you read three times more than the average American!

Image: Jug & Book by Robert Francis James. Oil on canvas board.

Benjamin Hotel
Benjamin Hotel


Bob James

Bob James is a second-act still-life painter and obsessive blogger. His oil paintings can be found on his website.

While first to admit all his opinions are merely his own, Bob agrees with Oscar Wilde, who said, “In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.”

He currently resides in Delaware.