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Back to the Books: Reinvigorating Our Reading This Summer

Back to the Books: Reinvigorating Our Reading This Summer

In The Old Lion: A Novel of Theodore Roosevelt, Jeff Shaara gives us a fine portrait of the 26th president of the United States. He incorporates many historical figures into his story, covers most of Roosevelt’s achievements and adventures, and explores Roosevelt’s personality and thinking. Students looking for an introduction to the 26th president, or adults wishing to learn more about this remarkable man, will find no better meet and greet than The Old Lion.

My one quibble with Shaara’s novel is his failure to blend Teddy Roosevelt’s lifelong love affair with books into the story. Roosevelt was an amazing reader, often tearing through two, sometimes three, books a day, and even remembering much of what he read. Over his lifetime, he is believed to have read tens of thousands of books. In addition, he wrote 35 books, more than 100,000 letters, and scores of speeches.

All on top of a life of high adventure and public service.

In Chapter 9 (“Outdoors and Indoors”) of his autobiography, Roosevelt spends several paragraphs discussing his reading habits, along with some tips for exploring literature. Search online for “Theodore Roosevelt reading,” and you’ll find lots of sites discussing his rules for reading and offering visitors his book lists. At Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt’s Oyster Bay home, the library holds 9,000 books. As Roosevelt’s great-grandson Tweed Roosevelt commented, “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — TR gave books away right and left.”

Today, Americans read an average of 12.6 books per year, the smallest number since Gallup began recording this data in 1990. Since 17 percent of Americans read no books at all, this likely means that a few men and women are annually pounding through a couple of shelves or more of books.

These figures caused me to reflect on my own reading life. I’m fairly certain I read less nowadays than I did 20 or 30 years ago. I read a lot online for the work I do—I also goof around a lot there, looking here and there at different news sites—but that’s a different class of reading than books. Like many other Americans, I’ve also noticed that my online attention span, like my fingers on the keyboard, jumps rapidly from topic to topic without much focus or in-depth thinking.

If you’re in the same boat, maybe you’re thinking—as I am—that it’s time to reverse course. And what better time to make that change than summer, when life and routine become more relaxed and less filled with obligations? But how do we turn this boat around?

If we look online—yep, back to the digital world again—for “how to read more books,” we find some excellent ideas. “Always have a book at hand,” “set aside daily time for reading,” “read in genres you enjoy,” and other tips are all helpful.

Setting concrete goals is one of the best ways to reintroduce reading to our lives. In “How to Read More,” James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, suggests this tactic:

I usually wake up, drink a glass of water, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and read 20 pages of a book. For the last 10 weeks, I have followed this new habit. As of today, I’m 100 pages into my 7th book. At that pace (7 books per 10 weeks) I’ll read about 36 books in the next year. Not bad.

Not bad is right. Here’s a suggestion of my own:

Set aside a time three or four evenings every week for a family reading time. Everyone—Mom, Dad, kids, Grandma, whoever’s in the house—brings a book to the den or the porch and reads to themselves. Add some treats—popcorn, fruit, a glass of wine or age-appropriate beverage—and you’ve got a party. It’s an especially great way to bring kids on board the reading boat as well as a nice time of peace and quiet for all involved.

If you are looking for places to start, Intellectual Takeout has a series of reading recommendations with books for all ages and interests. Here’s the first article in that series.

Reading books brings lots of benefits, both physical and mental. It can reduce stress, for example, it strengthens the brain and empathy, it can relieve depression, it prevents cognitive decline, and it improves focus and concentration. For the young, it also enhances vocabulary.

And best of all, reading’s a pleasure.

Image credit: Pixabay-Surprising Shots

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Jeff Minick
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