I can’t pinpoint when I lost my book—not a specific book, but the one I always had with me, one title after another, wherever I went. In a line or a waiting room I would open my book and someone would say, “I wish I had thought of that.”
“No one can waste your time when you have a good book,” I would say. The first time the words occurred to me as a teenager, I glowed with self-conscious precocity.
And then I became an adult with a long commute and an audiobook subscription, and a phone, and the phone got access to absolutely everything, and the everythings got better and better at seeming urgent. Some of them were sometimes—email, text messages—while some of them weren’t ever—the front pages of any news or social media platform—but the habit of seeking that urgency grew regardless. Amid the scrolling and the push notifications, nudging and pulling me toward some places and far more nowheres, my book fell by the wayside.
And finally, all the spare minutes spent reading nothing in particular came to prove my old saying’s converse: If you don’t have a good book, someone is always happy to waste your time.
A few months ago, I got my phone in order. No apps dedicated to tiny time heists, no automatic logins. No bookmarked homepages, or push notifications.
And then I took a look at my shelf, made a selection, and placed it in my bag, armor against boredom, false importance, and attentional predation. I’ve got my book back.