My Inability to Just Sit Down and Read

How I Turned My Silent Sustained Reading into an Instagram Post

I distinctly remember days in elementary school where we had a period of the day called “SSR”: Silent, Sustained, Reading. We would all grab our books and find a comfy spot in the classroom and read for approximately 30 minutes. Back in fourth grade, this was a really special time to be alone, quiet, and increase our reading skills. It was no big deal — we never complained and we never really found the time challenging. We usually came back from recess and sat down with a book.

So when I decided to take the challenge of doing 20 minutes of sustained print reading this week (as a sophomore in college) I thought it would be just like old times — which is true, it was — but far more challenging. Prior to the print reading time, I was instructed to read some peer work on medium.com and really engage in the multi-modal features and the format of online text reading.

My mother is a part of a book group, the same one for 20 years. But, now she’s struggling every evening to find time to pick up the book she’s supposed to read that month. And when she does, she says she’s constantly distracted by her phone. I simply suggested that she put her phone in a different room, but she told me that even then she would be thinking about whether or not she has received new emails. When I read the medium article “Why can’t we read anymore?” I quickly forwarded it to her — she never responded so who knows if she has enough time to sit down and read it.

My Experience Reading on Medium

I honestly love reading on Medium. The stories are interesting and I often get to engage with them more than I would with print. There are beautiful photos and interesting links to explore. After spending the time reading my peer’s writing, I moved on to more pieces. They suggest what I might be interested in and links are an easy way to get lost on the internet. It was pretty clear that reading online was relatively easy for me, as I do it everyday. I know how to find good pieces, I know how to skim properly, and I know the length of whatever I’m reading.

That being said there are some distractions that make reading online very difficult. My iMessages pop up on the corner of my screen with a distinctive noise. My attention turns to the group chat or my mom asking me how my day is going. An email notification is almost just as exciting and those will pop up to. I’m drawn to the notification of new information that is directed just at me.

The actual technology itself can be problematic as well. My computer or iPhone can die — a book never dies. Unless you do this. The screen is sometimes too bright and I get a headache. I often feel like a zombie always in front of a screen. It’s often an addiction on a screen: I need to read more, I need to check this and that. I honestly feel like I’m reading just as much as I did back in the elementary school days — it just does not feel as productive. The quality of the content is extremely different.

My Trip to the Good Old Fashioned Bookstore

This is the Lyrical Ballard Bookstore in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY. This is where I found my copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. The book hold a lot of significance to me for many personal reasons, but I had never owned it until this year when I found it laying around the old bookstore. It was serendipity.

The concept of the bookstore is something you don’t get with online reading. Old bookstores are magical. New bookstores are full of life too. The Kindle marketplace is not in fact magical at all.

So, I chose Leaves of Grass for my quiet, sustained reading. The idea of going to this bookstore and buying on of my favorite poet’s books and coming back to my room to read it was a bit romantic is a way. I decided to romanticize the art of reading text more. I waited until the sun was setting and I brought it to my window seat and read the text under the sunset.

I kind of fell in love with the moment. But I had made it too novel (no pun intended.) If I was an avid book reader still, I would not need to make that moment so special. I would just pull out the book anywhere and read. Instead it became this spiritual experience for myself.

I still had my phone on me (I had to take a picture of that beautiful sunset)… I even shamelessly instagrammed it: the caption from one of the poems I read.

It was still connected to media… even when I tried to resist. I really did love the reading time. And I’ve done it a few different times this past week. The experience is completely different, and I am very glad I have the opportunity to use both. In fact, I think technology has made me appreciate the spirituality of text.