A recent study found that we spend more than a quarter of the day engaging with digital content. That means, on average, 8.8 hours a day are spent on social media, watching videos, listening to podcasts, etc. And that number only increases with younger generations: 11.4 hours for Gen Z and 10.9 hours for millennials.
The question then becomes, what does your content diet look like? For filmmaker (and Catfish co-creator) Max Joseph, his content diet was extremely imbalanced.
“We are all suffering from this avalanche of content,” Joseph says. “And I think that the pendulum has swung, hopefully, as far as it can on the scatter-brain-overdoing-it [side] and maybe it’ll swing back now to slower, deeper activities that ground us a little bit.”
Joseph’s grounding activity of choice: reading more books. However, therein lies the oh-so relatable conundrum of too many books, too little time–a subject Joseph’s dives into for his latest visual essay, Book Stores.
Created in partnership with the social media platform Vero, Book Stores is the second installment of Charismatic Thinker, a series of visual essays created by Joseph in which he explores topics that have been itching his brain. Book Stores first went up on Vero last March and its wide release today comes just in time for World Book Day, which is today.
As Joseph lays out in Book Stores, his mission is twofold: to spotlight some of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and to figure out how to read more.
“Bookstores have always made me super anxious. They’re very stimulating aesthetically and intellectually, but then there’s this feeling of, ‘Oh, my god! I haven’t read the Inferno! How can I live without having read the Inferno?!’ But when am I going to read it? I’ve got 10 other books on my queue,” Joseph says. “You realize how much you haven’t read that you have signed on to read. And so there’s guilt mixed with facing your own mortality. Like, I only have so many years left. Am I ever going to get to this book?”
In addition to his coverage of South America and Europe’s most stunning book stores (i.e., “book store porn” as he calls it), Joseph interviews Tim Urban, founder of the popular blog Wait But Why, and Barking Up the Wrong Tree author Eric Barker, as well as the world’s fastest reader, Howard Berg. But there was one interviewee who truly illuminated the thesis Joseph didn’t even know he was looking for.
Before her presidency at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, Dr. Ruth Simmons gained wide recognition in academia for her professorship in comparative literature at Brown University–not to mention, she became the first African-American president of an Ivy League institution in 2000 while at Brown. So when Joseph reached out to interview her, he was hoping she’d give him the definitive list of books he must read before he dies.
“And she immediately was like, ‘No, no, no–that’s not how this works. You should read widely. Me giving you a list or any list in general, that’s just not how one should read,'” Joseph says. “She [emphasized] the importance of books, the reading of them, and the meditative state that you go into when you read, as opposed to just the content that you’re consuming.”
“At the beginning of the project, I was looking at books as another form of content that you would just consume,” Joseph continues. “And maybe it is content, but you consume it in a different way. You immerse yourself in it for a long period of time and that immersion puts you in a different mind state. And that’s what’s important about reading.”