The Forgotten Art of Longform Reading

Sometimes you stumble across an article that smacks you in the face because it articulates something you knew was true but hadn’t allowed yourself to think about.

That was this article for me. (Merry Christmas, Anne Bogel, for hurting me with the truth).

The author of the article says people aren’t reading deeply and patiently anymore. But he knows that isn’t news. Researchers have been noting it for a while. What surprises him (and me) is that this isn’t just true for digital natives, but for those of us who mostly grew up without the internet.

It gets real when he admits that he can’t read a chapter of a good novel anymore without fighting the urge to check his phone after two paragraphs. Even when he tells himself he will not check his phone, the internet, or his email, he is thinking about those things, not the sentences on the page. He wants to cry or rip up a phonebook (remember those?) because, as a writer, words are his life. And lots of them strung together don’t hold his attention anymore.

woman using smartphone and laptop near black table
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If he can’t read, we are all in big trouble.

He says we are. Some of us won’t admit our boredom and distractibility because of pride, of course, but we’re all forgetting how to read well.

I, for one, am admitting it. I find it increasingly difficult to sustain the discipline of longform reading, and I’m worried. As a Christian, I need to be able to read Scripture deeply. I need to be able to sit patiently in prayer. I need to ruminate.

On the less existential side, I need to read well to write well.

And it’s getting harder.

Don’t even get me started on my digital native kids. We’ve always homeschooled, and I swear they’ve read more books in their short lives than I ever did at their age. But even they admit it’s starting to feel more like a chore to read for pleasure now that they have phones, take online classes, and play Fortnite with friends.

Thousands of words over 300 pages aren’t looking so good these days.

Someone come up with a 5-step plan to fix this, stat, because I don’t want my brain to change in this way. I would go off Twitter (after having been on for approximately 45 seconds) if I thought that would help.

But somehow I doubt it will.