Our Reading Lives

Reading As A Cure for The Weary

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

Today, I am tired and stressed. There’s something about the initial Spring effect of high energy that can cause me to eventually crash. Maybe I’m overwhelmed by my work because the current projects I’m working on are stretching onward into my future. This will happen to me every once in a while. It just does. I focus myself with tea, comfort and reading– essentially using these habits to support my own version of meditation.

Let’s consider the potential reading has as a mental relaxant for a second. There has been scientific consideration into reading as a de-stressor– according to the Telegraph, the University of Sussex found evidence in 2009 that the escapism of reading acts as a distraction from gathered tension, and that it works better than other forms of relaxation because of the alternate reality offered within a plot.

And while I’ve talked about the mental benefits of reading before, this piece of information really stands out to me because I seem to be at my most stressed moment when I have fallen out of the pattern of reading. It happens. It has happened this week.

wrath-grapesWhen I am at my most frustrated, I read The The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read it so many times, it feels like I can depend on the next line, fall into the pattern of nouns and verbs and breathe in the familiar. Remember that turtle in this book? When I reread Grapes, I am that turtle. I doubt Steinbeck could have predicted this purpose for his work.


When I’m feeling emotionally drained, I read poetry that can draw out my analytical response, connecting emotion to logic and consideration. So I break out Nikky Finney, Lucille Clifton, and Marianne Boruch and set myself to simmer as I read away (I am so excited to mull over Ross Gay‘s work, for example, I can’t stand it).

fi The-Buried-Giant-205x300For the ultimate escapism, I drop into magical realism and quirky fantasy like Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble or Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. This is when I need a break from something that’s truly bothering me and need to see someone else’s bothers.

This is not scientific. This is not a study that has gone through IRB Testing and multiple attempts. I haven’t established my findings through statistical analysis. This is just me, analyzing my own mind, my stresses and recognizing that the written word is way more powerful for my mood than I realized.

I am ready, however, for some analysis from some scientific types to take the next step in these studies. We’ve heard about how our habit can help us sleep, save us from Alzheimers potentially, help our vocabulary, provide us with satisfaction. But what about reading as comparable to meditation? What about reading as a mood dial? What about rereading as a development of familiarity with characters who do not exist?

Or am I the only one?