This week Barack Obama told novelist Marilynne Robinson that reading had taught him how to be a citizen, which was to do “with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys, but there’s still truth there to be found … And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”
One finding from the study was that young people who received free school meals said they were more likely to read poetry outside of class than those who did not qualify for free lunches.
What makes the problem thornier is that the usual time-management techniques don’t seem sufficient. The web’s full of listicles offering tips on making time to read: “Give up TV” or “Carry a book with you at all times”. But in my experience, using such methods to free up the odd 30 minutes doesn’t work. Sit down to read and the flywheel of work-related thoughts keeps spinning – or else you’re so exhausted that a challenging book’s the last thing you need. The modern mind, Parks writes, “is overwhelmingly inclined toward communication… It is not simply that one is interrupted; it is that one is actually inclined to interruption.” Deep reading requires not just time, but a special kind of time which can’t be obtained merely by becoming more efficient.