Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Easy As Sunday Morning"

Once again, I'm in the middle of crazy finals time (so close, yet, so far...) so this will be another brief post. I want to talk today about the pleasure of easy reading.

After a long day of finals, papers, projects, a six-hour grading meeting, and a fifty-person-long line at my office hours, nothing gives me more pleasure than sitting in my bed and relaxing. Everybody has different ways of relaxing: some watch movies, some read books, some go fishing, some play video games, some knit weird cyclops things:

But one thing that is constant across the board is that people crave simplicity when they're stressed. If I want to watch a movie after a 15-hour day, I'm not going to watch A Fellini flick, I'm going to watch Legally Blonde or Monsters, Inc., or The Hangover. I'm going to watch something fun and lighthearted and simple. Something that will let me turn my brain off after a long day of being on overdrive.

There is an extreme amount of pleasure that is gained from turning our brains off. It's a way of allowing our bodies to recover. Easy reading gives us much of the pleasure of relaxation while at the same time entertaining us and making us feel at least somewhat intellectual (after all, we are reading).

The simplicity of Twilight comes in a few forms. First, the sentences themselves are simple. We do not need to work very hard to understand what is happening. There is none of the Shakespearean intricacies of the dialogue; it's flirty and we get it. There is no complicated sentence structure; we do not have to read sentences multiple times to understand what they're saying. And the plot is linear and straight-forward; we don't need to draw out a character map or a timeline as we would in a book like A Visit From The Goon Squad or a movie like Primer.

The second source of the simplicity comes in the predictability of it all. With the exception of the initial surprise (if the ending hadn't been spoiled for you) of Edward being a vampire, you know what is going to happen. The love triangle doesn't really create any tension because we know Bella and Edward will end up together.

The reading experience is stress-free because we don't have to worry about the ending. We know what is going to happen, so it's easy for us to believe it as we read.

But is relaxation a "real" pleasure?

Among our core desires as human beings, we have the desire for sleep. We enjoy it because we need it. Our body needs time to recover and process what happened during our day.

In fact, many people (teenagers especially, which is interesting, considering who primarily likes Twilight) enjoy sleep so much that they will spend upwards of twelve hours a day doing it! Some people get so much pleasure from sleep that they will do it to the detriment of socializing and even eating.

Easy reading mimics the pleasure of sleep by allowing our bodies and our brains to relax, while still providing us with the more sophisticated pleasures of plot and narrative and escapism that we get from reading a more complicated book.


  1. Personally, when I'm trying to relax after a long day, I always have the most fun turning my brain on, not off--a crossword to do, a riddle to solve, a blog post to write, a picture to make. But it's definitely an interesting point, and true in general as far as I can tell.

    Anyway, the comparison between sleep and easy reading (or in general, mindless relaxation) is really cool! Never thought of it that way before. I wonder what the distribution of benefits would look like if you compared reading a book, watching a movie, meditating, and sleeping. :D

  2. That's actually really interesting... I have a response to this but I think I'll blog about it next Monday so I can go into it in depth.

  3. I absolutely agree. One of the downsides of working in a mentally tasking profession is that sometimes it drains you so much you don't have any energy left for relaxation! Some novels and movies are a good way to get around that. You don't have to think too hard but they're still interesting enough to hold your attention. I haven't read Twilight, but The Hunger Games and its sequels worked well for me. Some nonfiction does too. Anything by Malcom Gladwell or in that style tends to be interesting but easily accessible (and lets you feel like you learned something afterwards).