Why I stopped reading books…and then got back?

Back in the early days of January, less as a resolution, but more as an early dawn of elderly wisdom, I decided to stop reading books that were fiction. I felt I had a finite amount of time in a given day, let alone the planet and a state of perfect productivity was what I needed to achieve. My fiction needs seemed to be better served through Netflix and Amazon Prime and a host of options. I can see some purists and friends who have grown up with me and our reading choices, cringing and looking for the closest phone to fling at me, but my mind was made. So I let go off the fiction and said only the non-fiction of the world will make do and long form articles informing me of the world (yes, the app, Pocket, is my best friend). Slowly the wisdom transformed into an insight that even the non-fiction books were slowing me down. The Kindle, which had quite literally re’kindled’ my reading a year ago, was also proving to be a weak influence to my all conquering urge to plough through as much information about the world, as my mind could possibly take. It was all going fine, it seemed to make sense, the rebellion against the one thing I held so dear was up and running. Goebbels would have been thrilled. But then, an argument happened.

A friend of mine, a bigger rebel than me on matters of all things normal, began to question why people watch movies anymore in the era of television that we live in today. His argument consisted of views that varied from the production value of TV shows on Netflix to the quality of actors on Amazon Prime to just names of shows like House of Cards and The OA, to rest his case. In this case I was the traditionalist, fighting the good and just fight for movies all over the world and the long and longer of my argument was that, in its essence, a movie was storytelling at its peak. It did not have the luxury of an entire season of building characters and setting the context to be able to hit you with a sucker punch or that epiphany that makes the popcorn and the ticket worth it or just the gigs of data on streaming it, it just had three hours at best. I pulverized him with movie facts and plots that had the courage to build bold characters and scenes that cast a spell on you. Of how Terrence Fletcher looks Andrew in the eye at the last concert in Whiplash and tells him he always knew, of how Maverick re-engages in the final dogfight in Top Gun, the scene in the shed in ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’, the stammering Aaron in Primal Fear, Robert Angier’s magic and desperate fight in The Prestige…it’s endless. Cinema is storytelling in its purest form and its only from there does TV ever stand a chance to grab us because in its truth and real fabric, TV is just imitating cinema, with a handicap and more time in hand.

And that’s when in the assumed ashes from my victory in that debate, rose a rather disturbing realization. That’s what books are. That’s what they had done for me. It was in the buildup, the tradition of story-telling, its place in time and history, it was all consequential. That’s what books were and always will be. I can have my debates about fiction, non-fiction and whatever else lies out there, but a book was what made reading possible and made it the best time spent with myself. It wasn’t cramming new information all the time, but it sure was hammering in the same point over and over again, in perfect harmony with the world it created for me. A book was very simply, the perfect escape, no matter what the genre. And who doesn’t like a good escape? And while long form articles on my phone will always remain a great source of waking up to the world, they will never be anything more than my favorite TV show, because irrespective of their brilliance, their tenure in my mind is as long as the time I find my ‘next favorite show’.

In the last month I got back to a book I have been meaning to read for a while which is Pico Iyer’s ‘The Global Soul’ which talks about travelers, travelling and the world that has become of it. I also have started ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger which is a brilliant commentary on what makes what brands do, contagious, and how that’s more down to a science then the unpredictable art we think it is. And all of a sudden, I can’t wait to get back to the next chapter of both. Much like my favorite TV show…


Why I stopped reading books…and then got back?