In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis reflects on some of the things that helped shape his early life:
“I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.
The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measure distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed “infinite riches” in what would have been to motorists “a little room.”
The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”
While this series is about reading more without living less, the truth is that we often need to do less in order to live more. And at times, that may include reading less.
Like those in Lewis’s time, we have the deadly power of rushing about wherever we please. And perhaps, we have even more opportunities for doing so, literally right at — and with — our fingertips.
When it comes to reading, our minds need time to ruminate on the information we’ve taken in. If you’re under a constant barrage of information without taking time and space, it can become difficult to adequately process and use that information and those new ideas.
Because the information we gain from reading is not the value of posessing this information, but the value of using that information, taking breaks and taking time to think becomes important. (In the long run, this will also help us to read more, because we will be less likely to burn out and also more likely to process what we’re reading.) We could, like in Lewis’s illustration, read a hundred books and learn and grow less than someone who diligently absorbs and thinks as he reads just ten.
In this past year, several of the books I’ve read have touched on this as how time is needed for healthy creativity and problem-solving. I think this short video illustrates how our minds thrive when given ample time, rather than pressured by the limitation of time:
This is true in many areas of life. It is interesting to look at the ancient cycles of fasting and feasting, working hard to harvest and then enjoying the harvest, and work and rest, and to see how those were beneficial cycles. As I’ve been learning about exercising, “Your muscles grow when you’re resting, not when you’re working out,” says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., and a Men’s Health exercise advisor. If you want to build muscle, it’s better to work out every other day, not every day in a row. (Though, technically, the specific routine may vary depending what specifics you’re focusing on; but regardless, you don’t workout or work hard for 31 days in a row without seeing detrimental effects.) While the brain is a bit more complex than muscle, the concept can nonetheless be applied to reading and many other areas of life.
The time off you need and the length of the pauses you take will look different from person to person, and from season to season of life. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all you’re reading, and switching up genres and other options aren’t helping, consider taking a break from reading for a few days or even a couple of weeks. In the long run, it could serve you well.