Aaron Miller: A New Year’s resolution in the books

By Aaron Miller
For The Republic

It’s time to start thinking about making a few New Year’s resolutions. For this year, I’ve decided to read more books for pleasure. I figure that will be easier than losing a few pounds.

Each year, we set lofty, noble goals in an attempt to improve ourselves. It’s always an uphill battle to keep them. So I’ve got to keep the goal manageable. Instead of saying I’m going to read 50 books this year, I just need to make sure to set aside time each day to unplug from the phone and email to focus and read what I want to read.

By the time I’m done with work each day, I’ve already read thousands of words. It can be exhausting. But I want to read what I want to, not what I must. I want to read some of the classics I’ve never gotten to and pulp novels about hard-boiled detectives or spies.

I’m a self-avowed Luddite. Many people I know really enjoy reading books on their phones or other handheld devices. It’s convenient. But I’ve never been able to read an entire book online. I have to hold the book in my hands. There is a sound and a feel when turning the pages. Books, especially old ones, have a certain unmistakable scent. It’s also less screen time, which we could all use.

Our society would be better off if we read more books. In them, we find ideas that challenge our ideology. We learn complex solutions to complex problems. I had a classmate in college who told me, “Read a book,” followed by a vulgar term for the backside of a donkey, every time I said something stupid. Whether it is entertainment or a journey of discovery, reading a book is an escape. Most of all, there is beauty in a well-crafted sentence — something sorely lacking in my columns.

Throughout most of American history, overall literacy rates have been on the rise. But I am not sure our comprehension is improving. Our ancestors lived in a more textual world. Their information and entertainment came from the written or spoken language, not through images or videos. While we are able to read, we have short attention spans. It is hard for us to digest more than the few sentences of a text or social media post. And books don’t trap us in an endless echo chamber.

We are fortunate; Columbus is a cultural oasis. We are surrounded by modern architecture. Thanks to Exhibit Columbus, we enjoy thought-provoking and surprising works of public art. But we would be hurting if there wasn’t a good place to get a book in town.

We are lucky to have some great options. This includes the Bartholomew County Public Library. Libraries are a refuge and a wonder. Before the internet, it is where we found the random facts or trivia we needed to win an argument. It is serene and quiet, due to an implicit agreement between the patrons. That mutual respect and politeness is increasingly difficult to find.

Our library is an amazing place before you even walk in the door. It was designed by I.M. Pei, with a Henry Moore sculpture welcoming visitors. Another architectural marvel stands across the street.

Our fair city is blessed with another library. Sitting in the Columbus Learning Center, the University Library is another jumping-off point for an adventure of the mind. Since it is an Indiana University library, you can get a book from any IU library in a matter of days. IU’s libraries hold millions of books. And they can find you the rarest items through Interlibrary Loan. That’s a godsend for any researcher.

And where would bibliophiles be without our brick and mortar independent bookseller? Independent bookstores are a rare breed today. They are the David to the Goliath that is Amazon. These stores offer a chance to browse, a tactile connection to books, and a community to readers. They also do not come with the baggage of questionable labor practices, nor are they collecting my data.

So I have powerful reasons to read more books next year. I have great places to peruse and pick up new books. The work for most New Year’s resolutions is absolute drudgery. Reading more books for fun will be a joy. This is a resolution I know I can keep.