Reading instead of watching

I don’t know about you, but I am about done with movies and television. During the summer of COVID-19, like so many of us, I turned to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus to have some respite from news on the pandemic. I loved seeing the original cast in Hamilton, watching it on July 4 while camping in Utah with my daughter. I’ve re-watched The West Wing, The Wire, and Band of Brothers. These are some of my favorite television shows. I’ve tuned in documentaries on everything from The Great Hack about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal to one on the band, Rush. With sports coming back, it’s been nice to see something on my screen in which the outcome is not preordained. But, screen fatigue is setting in.

So, I’ve turned to reading more and listening to podcasts and audio books. I am not a big fan of fiction (sorry, CA English Department; the literature teachers of my youth were not as strong or influential as you). However, I can’t get enough when it comes to history, politics, and art. I tend to have a number of books open simultaneously. Here’s what I am reading or have read recently:

  • The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers, a detailed analysis of 9/11 and its aftermath
  • The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson, a look into the four pivotal figures in the early history of the CIA and their negative impact on global perceptions of American leadership
  • Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, a memoir from the bass player of the punk band Sonic Youth
  • Face It by Debbie Harry, a memoir from Blondie, one of the best artists of the CBGB era
  • Up Jumped the Devil by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, an outstanding biography of the blues genius Robert Johnson
  • The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson, a look into the business of Hollywood and a behind-the-scenes look at a classic film
  • Grant by Ron Chernow, a biography of one of the most important military and political figures in American history. Much has been forgotten about Grant’s efforts to force integration in the post-Civil War south.
  • Auschwitz by Laurence Rees, a moving and detailed history of the Holocaust’s most infamous death camps
  • Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, a real-life thriller about this reporter’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein
  • Surprise, Kill, Vanish by Annie Jacobsen, a captivating read into CIA paramilitary activities
  • The Avengers by Rich Cohen, an enthralling true-life story of Jewish partisans in World War II who fought the Nazis in Poland

If you want a list that includes outstanding works of fiction, I would encourage you to read this interview with John Cleese of Monty Python about what books and authors he enjoys reading.

Zoom webinars have allowed insight into what many public figures read, as so many tend to conduct Zoom interviews from their offices or libraries, and we catch sight of titles while checking out the rooms. This article by the “bookshelf detective” identifies books that Tom Hanks, Yo-Yo Ma, Sean Penn, Regina King, and others have on their shelves.

So put down those remotes, find someplace comfortable, and try a little reading this fall. If you are like me, reading can take you far beyond the words and helps us to see new connections and think through complex issues. It raises my curiosity in ways that make me want to ask more questions, rather than be a passive recipient of what is on the screen. Reading elevates my thinking and allows me to have greater empathy and understanding. It also has health benefits. Reading can improve memory. Also, research has shown that it can lead us to adopt a more positive outlook. Have you ever noticed how happy the Colorado Academy librarians are? I know that they are standing by to help anyone find a good book.