We are all creatures of habit, and sometimes a habit can become the unconscious focus of our daily lives. In other words, we relinquish personal control to a formula of behavior. Brushing your teeth regularly is a good idea. Reading the news every morning is not.
More than ever, it’s become a dispiriting activity that, if you take it seriously, can poison your mind for the rest of the day. Smart people know this, yet we persist. This morning we read about the train wreck in India where nearly 300 people died; Biden crows about the debt ceiling agreement; the Supremes continue to defy ethical standards.
Politics now highlights every human frailty and failing. Worse still, for me, Trump and DeSantis have displaced Barthelme, Mallarmé and the literary life I once pursued. Martin Amis is dead. So is most poetry, and I don’t read much scholarly stuff anymore—or good fiction either.
I know I’m not alone. Many of you fix on your daily dose of the Washington Post and the New York Times. I do too while castigating them for all the junk stories they pursue. I also look regularly at Politico, the New Yorker, Vox, Bloomberg, the Guardian, New York Magazine, and sometimes Axios. Most of the liberal pubs like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Harper’s, etc. I’ve given up on—too pro forma.
As world problems have become more convoluted and controversial, creative writing seems to have become less innovative and more conventional. A few sites still fight the good fight. But I don’t want to read about the gender trials that young people are undergoing or their kinky love affairs or food preferences. Digital content brings us everything we don’t need to know.
The recourse used to be bedtime. You absorbed a good read until sleep took over and dreams displaced the world of the book. That worked for me for a long time, but I read more slowly now and it’s hard to focus on Kindle after a while. Or the book falls to the floor, and the memories of what it contained don’t last until morning.
Among all the positive benefits of reading proposed by one site, we’re told that reading “helps prevent age-related cognitive decline.” Well, friends, I would suggest that this notion clearly depends on what you read. And, finally, nobody but you cares what you read.