What the World Needs Now is Books
After reading more than a few articles about how social media demolishes our attention span, prevents us from forming healthy real-world relationships, and causes higher-than-normal rates of depression, stress, and insomnia, I decided to cut way back on screen time. And you know what? I don’t miss Facebook and Twitter that much. Sure, there were a few days of FOMO when I kissed social media goodbye, but I’m using the time I would have wasted on it to better my life and mind. And when you’re living with MS, quality of life matters.
But I did keep one social media connection — Goodreads. It’s a social media platform for bookworms, a place where people can discover new books, review and rate their favorites, and discuss everything from character development to surprise endings. I joined the site in 2011 and have been using it to track my literary goals and record all the books I want to read (of which there are many).
One of the greatest services the site provides is an annual “Reading Challenge,” which begins, as you’d expect, on Jan. 1 of each year. Readers set a goal for themselves, whether to read one book a year or 100, then keep track of progress.
I typically set myself a goal of 50 books, though I usually beat that by five books or more. However, this year, I reached my 50th book way ahead of schedule. In fact, I’ll finish before October is halfway over! Goal-setting, I’ve found, is key for me as an MS patient. It keeps me forward-focused and pushes me to attain greater things and take on bigger challenges. Multiple sclerosis wants to make my life small; challenges like the one on Goodreads keeps it vast.
I’ve read classics like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Invisible Man,” “Crime and Punishment,” and “Bastard Out of Carolina.” I’ve learned a great deal from works of nonfiction such as “The Emperor of All Maladies,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “ADHD. Nation,” and “Evicted.” I’ve read memoirs, graphic novels, poetry collections, and even a few plays, and each of them has been worthy and thought-provoking. But when it comes to the 5oth book, I always try to pick something special. No, it won’t be the last book of the year for me, but it will be the one that marks the end of my 2018 challenge.
This year, my 50th book is “On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books,” by Karen Swallow Prior. In this work, she argues that “reading great literature well has the power to cultivate virtue” and that “reading good literature well requires one to practice numerous virtues such as patience, diligence, and prudence.”
These are not character qualities the world finds particularly valuable right now, but I do. And I don’t think I’m alone in my desire to read and think well, to practice virtues like patience and diligence. From “The Great Gatsby,” Prior asserts, I will gain a greater understanding of temperance. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (strange as it may sound) can teach me about the nature of hope. And one of my favorite books, “Ethan Frome,” is actually a treatise on chastity.
Prior’s book is important because it is teaching me how to be a better reader, a more discerning and thoughtful consumer of literature. And by doing so, I become not only a more learned individual but I’m also connecting with (and learning from) experiences, places, and people I might otherwise have missed.
James Baldwin — author of the incomparable work “The Fire Next Time” — once said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
It’s easy to think, as MS patients, that we have — as Bull Harris puts it in the movie “El Dorado” — “a more interesting misery” than other folks. But books have helped me put my illness in perspective. There are people out there just like me, dealing with challenges and living fine lives in spite of them. My trials are not novel (pun totally intended), and reading others’ stories, whether they’re set in fantastic worlds or the real one, helps me keep that in perspective.
And, as Baldwin asserts, reading also connects me with people both real and imaginary. It helps me consider things from their perspective, and by doing so, I better understand and refine my own.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.