Like a great many girl of the late ’80s/early ’90s, I was raised on Sweet Valley High,The Baby-Sitters Club, and the Judy Blume canon (Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is an underrated classic). When I really put my mind to it, I could read an entire Baby-Sitters Club “Super Special”—the fat ones with the white covers—in a day flat, before promptly passing out beneath my Beverly Hills, 90210–themed sheets. Sometimes, my parents had to implore me to stop reading and come eat my star-shaped chicken nuggets (although, in light of this humblebrag, rest assured I was a little jerk in plenty of other ways).
I was always enamored of books, and I still am. But in later years, I found myself reading less and less—because that’s just what happens when you grow up, get a job, and have two kids, right? Actually, wrong. As I’ve learned in the first half of 2018, it wasn’t my job’s or my kids’ fault that I wasn’t reading as much I wanted to. Really, it was mine, because I alone was charging my phone next to my head at night, beaming blue light into my eye sockets and rage-tweeting into the wee hours. When I broke that nasty habit, my nights cracked open with possibility, showing me that I actually had plenty of free time to do one of the things I most love to do in the world—read. A tad melodramatic, but true: charging my phone in the kitchen at night has actually changed my life.
Let the record show, I am not a Luddite—not even a little bit. I shamelessly post Instagram stories of my daughter’s ballet recitals. I may or may not have Boomeranged a rosé glass-clink or two in my day. I believe the Internet can be beautiful (helping to raise more than $20 million for RAICES) and hilarious (God bless The Borowitz Report), and Twitter can literally start a revolution (namely, the Arab Spring). But the Internet is also like a friend you can only tolerate in small doses—toxic, stressful, annoying—slowly but surely staging a coup over your life. It did mine.
I justified it by telling myself that I worked in news, and often online. I told myself I had to have my phone close at hand, charging at my bedside every night—officially, because I needed to know if there was, say, a government shutdown; unofficially, though, my phone siren-called me into taking BuzzFeed quizzes (I’m a Carrie, much to my chagrin) and, especially since the Trump election, to scrolling through Twitter while having a mild heart attack. As my political rage peaked, so did my addiction to my phone.
At the end of 2017—while, obviously, idling on my phone—I watched as three friends shared their #52BooksIn52Weeks—a challenge in which, as the hashtag indicates, people dutifully read a book per week for an entire calendar year and post the “journey” online. I was awed by them and also jealous, wishing I’d read more than a measly 17 myself (which isn’t terrible on its face, but is on the sad side for a lifelong bookworm). These friends, and the new year’s self-improvement complex at large, inspired me to put down my phone and pick up my first book of the year, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before, a study of habits and how best to break or form them, based on your personality. According to Rubin’s metrics, I found I identified as a rule questioner and a bit of a rebel, prone to shirking the rigidity of regular habits and lacking self-control—the kind I’d need to charge my phone on the nightstand and not binge on it. If I wanted to kick the habit, it had to be all or nothing—I had to remove temptation and charge it in another room entirely.
I’d experimented with charging my phone in the kitchen before, but had fallen off the wagon, of course. When I started anew, I plugged it in the kitchen an hour or so before bedtime (by which time I’d spent all day either writing about or closely following the news on my phone). I bought an old-fashioned alarm clock on Amazon so I’d know what time it is. And, finally, I replaced my nightly social media eye-bleed with a real, live, paper book (iBooks on the family iPad would have spelled temptation to tap into the Web). This is where the magic happened. There were Rupi Kaur poems instead of Trump tweets; Nell Scovell’s hilarious memoir as an (at least temporary) antidote to wretched Harvey Weinstein news; tingly lesbian love stories; and at least two Meghan Markle biographies (do not @ me) tickling my fancy. Shocker: It’s infinitely better for your psyche to end your day with the soul of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie than with the husk that is Stephen Miller.
Almost six months later, I’ve read 29 books and I feel, in some special way, like a kid again. At this rate, I might make it to 52, but I don’t want to set too lofty a goal for myself. There are other benefits: My eyes naturally grow tired from reading, rather than kept bleary with the blue light from my phone screen. When I wake up, I generally feel well rested—and because I am physically unable to reach for my phone mere seconds after I open my eyes, I am forced to take a few moments with my thoughts before diving into my Outlook or before one of my kids appears at my bedside shouting my name.
I won’t pretend I’m much less breezy about my phone use by day. There are nights when I linger at the kitchen charging spot, pitifully sending one last text; six months into this habit, parting from my phone is still sweet sorrow. I absolutely look forward in the morning to seeing what I missed—mass text chains about Ivanka Trump! The latest Timothée Chalamet news! But I have found that reading begets more reading: Waiting on line or sitting on the subway, I am more likely to whip out a book now than keeping scrolling down the rabbit hole. And funny enough, charging my phone in the kitchen at night has brought me full circle, doubling my love for Goodreads, the nerdy social media platform where users share their book reviews and want-to-read lists. One of my favorite things to do on my phone now is see what books my friends are recommending—and tell them I’ve just read another one.