I don’t know about you, but I’ve been spending a lot of my time lately flitting from one news source to the next, trying to keep up with the what and why and how of our unusually volatile world. But instead of filling me up with context and insight, oftentimes this habit can leave me feeling headachy and overwhelmed and empty. Yet if I take more than a minute to slow down and think this through, I remember that just as a diet of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk might seem like a great idea immediately after a terrible breakup, it’s probably not a great idea to let my primary intellectual subsistence come from Facebook and Twitter — no matter what Trump did this week.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the speed and breadth and accessibility of information in our modern world. Yet while I might love the idea of binging out on the latest streaming series that opens with a gritty but nubile cop having relations with the guy she’s been assigned to hunt down who actually turns out to be a member of the alien race we later learn killed her father and appropriated his mind for experiments conducted in the research lab that sponsors the police department, I also love donuts. And if I told you that I was having terrible indigestion and fatigue and stupendous weight gain, you might immediately ask me what I’ve been eating lately. But if I told you that I’m feeling simultaneously empty-headed and dense and anxious, neither one of us might think to reexamine what sort of mental fodder I’ve ingested lately.
I’m not saying that all news sources produce nothing but junk food for the mind, but I do think it helps to be aware of the fact that a reading diet of writing designed to immediately grab your attention might not be the best way to maintain one’s equilibrium. It’s essential to read some news, and to stay informed, but it’s also essential that we continue to fight for the depth and breadth of our mental capacities, the essential nutrients that keep our minds strong and healthy. No matter what, you might just find it useful to take stock of your reading diet these days. Even if it doesn’t need an adjustment, remembering that you’re in charge of what you consume can be a powerful way to do just that. Or even if you don’t think it needs an adjustment, it can’t hurt to have a little mental broccoli every now and then. Pick up that book that won the Pulitzer, even if the first three hundred pages are hard to get into. Grab the Shakespeare off the shelf and give yourself an afternoon to really work through just one scene. Read Kay Ryan on the train, or Proust in the bathtub. You get the idea. And you’ll get many more ideas once you start diving back in and reclaiming all that reading has to offer the mind that stays hungry for it.