The other night I was sitting in bed with my wife reading. Out of nowhere she looked at me and asked, “How do you just sit and read?” At first, I was perplexed. Over time reading has become a self-evident fact of life for me. I read the news, I read to learn, and I read for pleasure. Reading is how I get almost all of my information. After a second I looked at her and said, “I don’t know, I just do. It makes me happy.”
Don’t go assuming that my wife is anything short of very intelligent. In my opinion, she doesn’t read as much as I do because she has a photographic memory. It creeps me out how she remembers everything she ever hears or sees. I’m quite jealous.
Anyway, that little conversation got me wondering if I am as unusual as my wife thinks I am. I mean, she thinks I’m unusual for many reasons, but specifically when it comes to reading. Do other Millennials read like I do?
At first, I assumed not. We hear so much about Millennials being the “selfie” generation obsessed with social media and binge-watching shows on Netflix. But I did a bit of research and found a Pew Research Center study from last year that shocked me. It showed that people ages 18-29 read more than any other older age group. In fact, 83% of 18 to 29-year olds read for pleasure! What?!
So I dug a little deeper and found a study by the National Endowment for the Arts that showed that 43% of Millennials read literature, which was beaten only by the elderly at 49%.
So I’m not alone!
But my next question was, why are so many young people picking up books and reading, especially for pleasure? It makes sense to have to read for school or work, but it’s hard to imagine an average 25-year old sitting down with a paper copy of a book and reading just to learn or for pleasure despite the numbers saying it happens. In our digital age where Barns & Noble stores struggle to stay open and 50% of Millennials waste their brain power scrolling through the garbage on Buzzfeed, how has reading not dropped off the map completely?
While the statistics don’t give anything more than a superficial reason for why people pick up a book (i.e. work or pleasure), I believe there is a much deeper reason for the endurance of the tradition of reading. When I sit on the couch in the evening and open my book I don’t contemplate the specific purpose for which I am spending my time absorbing the words of the author. Whether I’m reading history, classic literature, or a modern novel I subconsciously convince myself to pick up the book because I know that I’ll get a combination of intellectual and emotional value from the experience.
I believe all of us weirdoes who are propping up those reading statistics have vivid emotional ideas about reading. We envision sitting in a comfy chair with a new novel opened, the feeling of turning the pages, how the books look on our built-in shelves next to the fireplace, getting lost in a world that only exists within those pages. Reading that great novel, memoir, or account of history is like having an amazing conversation with someone unlike anyone you know. It’s an enticing thought that never quite lets go throughout the day.
Those day-dreams often look like the stock photos I’ve put in this article. They are a release from this present world and an instantaneous illustration of a wholly different place or time. When we go to realize the little stock photos that nag us throughout the day, they almost do come true. But, like a drug, we have to try again to find and live within an even better and more interesting little dream.
So, millennial bibliophiles the world around, do not think of yourself as weird. There are many of you having those little day-dreams at work today; itching to get home so you can open that book and dive into your new world. Don’t be surprised if you meet a fellow literary traveler. Perhaps you’ll get to have a similar experience in conversation together.