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The Surprising Problem with Reading Too MuchOr: What happens when stories eclipse your reality

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I am a fair-weather reader.

I only read when I have the time, when I’m not too sleepy or too wrapped up in other things, when I find a book that’s absolutely right.

This never used to be the case.

A past full of books

I grew up a passionate reader. I would read anything that strayed in front of me. I would read proudly when walking between classes, when waiting for whatever was next to begin, or when I probably should have been making friends.

An article on women buying 80% of all books had this to say about what the typical American is reading:

According to Pew, the typical American read or listened to 5 books in the past year. The average for all adults was 12 books in the past year.

— Modern Mrs. Darcy with Anne Bogel

I probably fall between the typical American and the average adult.

I collect books. I always have. I look at them longingly when I pass, and yet . . . yet, I don’t take them down and read them, or at least, not very often.

What caused this change?

I had a period in my life that I don’t like to think about. I was in a stifling and heavy relationship that required my constant attention. Oddly, it wasn’t the relationship or resulting depression that caused the interruption of my reading habits. It was the noise. Television, all hours of the day and night.

Television took away my ability to think as I read

Even with headphones, even from the other room, even with meditation practice, determination, and an intense desire to escape, I slowly lost all ability to string together the logic to be found in books.

This is not surprising. It has long been thought, to put it in a lighthearted vein, that reading books is the mental equivalent of using sunscreen while watching TV can be seen as sunbathing without protection.

One study in 2013 in Japan examined the effects of television on 276 children. The brains of the children were measured with brain magnetic resonance (MR) images along with how much TV they watched and its long-term effects.

Takeuchi, the head researcher for the group, found that the parts of the brain associated with higher arousal and aggression levels became thicker, the more TV the children watched. Also of concern, the frontal lobe thickened, which matters because it lowers verbal reasoning ability. From The Impact of Television Viewing on Brain Structures: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analyses, Hikaru Takeuchi.

While the study was certainly not conclusive that all TV is harmful in all situations, I know from observing my own state that I was losing my focus and retention of that which I read.

A new ability took its place

While I couldn’t read books anymore, I could still concentrate on articles. I could read and write plays. And perhaps more central to my development, I could still interact with friends on Facebook and through email. Conversations broke through my stupor.

It was this last key that gave me the ability to reflect on my situation and ultimately remove myself from it.

If I had stayed glued to books, as life-giving and essential as they are, I might not have ever taken a hard look at where I was and decided I needed to move on.

For some of us, books are an escape. Sometimes, you need to be facing your reality rather than imagining worlds outside of it.

Like the proverbial frog which gets boiled alive by sitting in a pot of tepid water which then simmers, an avid reader can ignore an awful lot about her surroundings if the lure of books is strong enough. “Come in,” whisper the books, “the water’s nice!”

A balance

I now realize I need to strike a balance. Articles are great things, but books provide whole worlds and points of view that you can’t get anywhere else. Plays are central to my life, but you can’t spend the time nor get to the depth of a subject in a play as you can a book.

However, I do not forget lightly, and I realize I am indebted to my forced removal from reading books within the course of my life.

Would I recommend it? If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you feel some attraction to the idea, or you wouldn’t have read my story. Perhaps it would serve you well, as an experiment at least. It could give you the room to develop things in real life, like friendships, ties with family, good deeds, or gratitude.

Stories are powerful. Good stories can inspire us to move mountains. Sometimes, we need to tell our own stories, or live them unimpeded by others’.

Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in All Stories, Culture and Current Events, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Personal Narrative, Self-Help, True Story


  1. It’s sort of fun here! I like the snaps! I went a couple of years where I read over 100 books each year, so ya totally can say the lure is real. Good reminder to stay balanced and on track. Thanks:]