I have a theory that reading fiction is the last leisure activity left that makes it possible for us to truly switch off.
In an age where technology means we work everywhere rather than anywhere, and where productivity has hijacked our leisure time, turning hobbies into side hustles and wellbeing into a structured and competitive pursuit, even suggesting that it’s possible to switch off seems slightly fantastical.
The constant background noise of messages and notifications follows us everywhere. We check emails in bed, quickly reply to texts while stopped at the lights, scroll social media in front of the television and let our minds wander while we’re out for drinks with friends.
Modern life demands that our attention is constantly divided between a dozen different things at once. In contrast, reading offers a delightfully simple alternative.
Escape your to do list
When you’re grappling with an already relentless to do list, I completely understand why finding time to read rates closer to a chore than a pleasure, but bear with me.
Reading holds your attention in a different way to almost anything else. It requires your full concentration; it’s not possible to let your mind wander, or to do two things at once.
Your eyes are busy with the job of reading the symbols in front of you and your brain is busy with the work of interpreting those symbols and bringing them to life. Essentially: you’re either reading, or you aren’t.
When you create that space to let your mind slow down and relax, some truly amazing things can happen.
Science agrees. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It’s also been found to help you get a better night’s sleep, feel less anxious, increase empathy, reduce symptoms of depression, increase self-esteem, improve social skills, and be more creative.
What fiction offers is an opportunity to escape into a different world when real life feels just a little too real.
While you’re absorbed in the story you hit pause on whatever’s going on in your own life.
It helps you calm down, gain perspective, and take a breather – all without ever leaving the sofa.
Reading for pleasure
They key to reading for pleasure is to do it for pleasure.
Contrary to what the critics, snobs and bores will tell you, there’s no right or wrong way to read.
Pick the things that appeal to you; choose what you want to read rather than what you think you should. Reading is worthwhile no matter when you do it or for how long.
We don’t subject our television habits to such rigorous scrutiny, and there’s no reason to do it with reading either. Binge a series the way you would a box set. If you like comedies, read comedy. If you like drama, try a thriller.
The next time you’re feeling stressed out, you don’t need to find enlightenment or run a mile. Pick up a book. You might just enjoy it.
About the author
Rachel Wood studied Philosophy at university and then went on to get a Master’s in Creative Writing.
She has spent the last nine years working as a copywriter, first inside a big glamorous marketing agency and then as a freelancer in her pyjamas (also very glamorous).
An avid reader herself, Rachel Wood who set up the business a little over a year ago is passionate about the fact that reading really doesn’t need to feel like a trip to the dentist; ultimately good for you but not necessarily that enjoyable an experience. She only recommends books she has personally read, loved and would genuinely share with friends.