Most ’90s kids remember things like jelly shoes, The Magic School Bus, and Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers. My favorite, however, combined two magical things: books and pizza. That’s right, Mrs. JTT—the Pizza Hut Book It Program.
Happy news: The program is still going strong. Happier news: To celebrate the program turning thirty this year, The Hut is giving free personal pan pizzas to Book It alumni. The offer ends today, so register for your free pie here, and good luck fighting the nostalgia.
I took advantage of the offer last week and realized a lot had changed since I was in grade school, when I hadn’t grown into my teeth yet. Not only is eating pizza a perilous adventure now that my metabolism has jumped ship, but reading is…well, not quite what it used to be, either.
I was an insatiable reader from the beginning. I raced through my first grade reader, which was assigned for the entire year, in one night. Under a blanket. With my flashlight. As young as nine years old, I packed a messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich every Saturday and rode the city bus to the public library, camping out on the floor and consuming stacks of Hank the Cowdog and Mandy books. Later, I heard my dad say I was a “huge bookworm” and knew I should be a little offended—but the term stuck, and now it’s my favorite compliment.
The problem is I don’t know if I can call myself a true bookworm anymore—and that is the most depressing thought I’ve had all day.
I still never go anywhere without a book, and I have small towers stacked around my apartment—but saying “I love you” just isn’t good enough, and they know it. After all, I carry my books around more than I read them.
Here’s what happened: Missy’s Adult Life is cool but not very reader-friendly, i.e. I’m Way Too Busy to Have Fun. Not only am I in graduate school for book publishing (don’t start), but I split more than fifty hours a week between three jobs, write for a newspaper and this blog, and am a project manager at my program’s publishing house. While I burned through a book a day a decade ago, I haven’t read a book for fun since Christmas.
Until I ordered that damn pizza.
In honor of Book It, I picked up a book for the first time in months and asked myself WHY it was the first book I had picked up in months. I love books, the way I love my cat (that’s a lot, people), and I’m honored to be in the publishing industry and advocate for literacy. Why had I let it go?
The short answer: Netflix.
The long answer: TV and the Internet are like junk food. When we’re especially busy and fatigued, there’s something compelling about a quick escape, about going brain dead after a stressful and demoralizing day. We do it, even if we hate ourselves for it, and screw broccoli.
Yes, reading can be an escape, too, and we forget that. But Netflix marathons? They don’t end, and I—just—can’t—stop—after—one Orange is the New Black episode.
But I’m not alone.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of 166 minutes a day watching TV and only nineteen reading in 2013 (Editorial note: although different data sources report higher reading averages). My age group? Even less: eight minutes.
The health consequences of watching too much TV are well documented, from TV’s addictive nature to its correlation to depression, sleeplessness, and diseases. The benefits of reading, however, include preventing Alzheimer’s disease, increased brain function, cognitive development, knowledge, and verbal skills, and correlation to overall happiness (check out the depression treatment called “bibliotheraphy”). In fact, the most famous Egyptian library sported the inscription “Healing—place of the soul” more than two thousand years ago in Themes. Those ancient bookworms knew then what we forget today: Reading is healthy for the human spirit.
But the number one benefit of reading? All writers worth their jobs will tell you the same secret to good writing: reading, and reading a lot.
Old bookworms should re-earn that name, make reading a priority, set TV boundaries at night, accept TV-free week challenges, and embrace balance. It’s been a long time since I participated in Book It, but each year slipped by faster than the last—and I don’t want to waste any more time letting my old friends collect dust. We always make time for the things we really want to do.
The funny thing? I may have abandoned reading, but I never stopped eating pizza.