Why you should always have a book on deployment (and on road trips, and in waiting rooms)

I have always been a book lover. There’s something magical about the weight of a …

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nikita Chesnokov, a legal services specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, reads a book in the Cherry Point Library at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, July 10, 2019. Chesnokov uses his extra time to read a book from the Commandant’s reading list to not only improve his knowledge, but learn different ways to become a better leader for his Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexandra Amor Santos Arambulo)

I have always been a book lover. There’s something magical about the weight of a book in your hands, and the smell of new pages before they’ve been opened. Old books have magic too; I often buy hardcovers and old first editions on eBay because I’ve noticed that the publishing quality of older books was often higher than today. A book with thick pages makes a satisfying sound when you turn them.

But the magic of books goes beyond the pages. Reading is good for our health. Research from the University of Sussex found that that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress. Readers experience slower memory decline later in life. Books help us fall asleep and they even help us live longer.

book on deployment
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexandra Amor Santos Arambulo)

Books also make us more mindful in this time of chaos. Our minds are constantly going, wondering about the next thing. We are wondering what to buy next, what to eat next, what project to work on next, and what activity our kids are doing next. Or we think about the past and wonder if we made the right comments in that conversation, whether we chose the right school for our kids or whether we applied for the right jobs.

But it’s impossible to have a racing mind and fully absorb a book. This is especially true with poetry, which makes us read slowly. But it’s also true with fiction and nonfiction. When the prose is really good, we want to luxuriate in the words and not just in the message, and these are the best kinds of books. When I’m feeling anxious, I notice that it takes some time for me to really get into a book. Often, I start reading three or four before I find one that pulls me in. This is okay too. Because when we do find the right book that captures our attention, it is worth it. We stop worrying about coronavirus and paychecks and cooking dinner, just for a while.

book on deployment
Army Ranger and poet Luke Ryan with his latest book

Is there anything better than lying on a beach with a book in one hand and a cold drink in the other? Or lying on a hammock, reading, on the first warm day of spring? Or reading in an armchair at night in the middle of a storm? Or reading in the bathtub after a long, exhausting day? Or crawling into bed at night with a book waiting on the nightstand?

These are magical moments. Books become like friends because they take us out of our own selves, our own egos, and into someone else’s. They can be beautiful. They can be beautiful objects, but the words themselves can also be beautiful. They can awe us.

I have a select group of books that I could read over and over again and never get bored. I would save these books from a fire (after my family and our photographs). These are the books that sweep me away, that make me slow down. These are my magic books.

This is why you should never go on a trip, on a deployment, or even to the doctor’s office without a book. We need that brief dip in the pool of mindfulness whenever we can get it. It’s a little bit of comfort in an anxious, or uncertain, time and place.

Victoria Kelly is a former military spouse and the author of When the Men Go Off to War and Mrs. Houdini. She graduated from Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Find her at victoria-kelly.com.

The editorial team at Sandboxx.