As entropy has its way with the universe, slowly breaking down all energy and plunging our reality into a null-set of activity, one of the greatest existential questions humankind can ask itself is, “Why?” Why do we exist? What is the purpose of consciousness? Must we forever create something from nothing, inventing meaning for ourselves in a world devoid of such conceptual frameworks, at least in any quantifiable way? The only possible response is to hang on to life as long as possible, in hopes some ineffable truth will reveal itself to us before the worms take our bodies and all that remains is the fading memory of our presence in the minds of others. And even this is in spite of all evidence to the contrary—namely, that we die as uncertain and alone as we came into this world. But as we gaze into the abyss, we may content ourselves with the knowledge that reading all those books, like the nerdlingers we were, extended our lives by roughly 23 months.
Or rather, that’s the potential association made by Yale researchers in a new study published online by the journal Social Science And Medicine. (Note the term “association,” not “relationship,” so don’t go thinking this is a great way to pull a fast one on your insurance actuarial.) 3,600 people ages 50 and up were studied for a period of 12 years, in order to assess the affect reading habits may have on longevity. After controlling for outside factors, the study broke down three groups of people: Those who didn’t read books at all, those who read books up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who read more than that. The results may hold promise, if you’re hoping to live long enough to participate in the inevitable gasoline wars of 2042!
On average, book readers had a “20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers.” Crunching the numbers even further, we find those in the highest reading group (more than 3.5 hours/week) were “23 percent less likely to die in the next 12 years,” while those semi-dorks who managed to crack a book for at least half an hour a day experienced “mortality rates reduced by 17 percent.” That might be just enough time to hold on to your consciousness in order to watch the world’s non-renewable resources disappear completely, plunging civilization into a torrid hell scape of Hobbesian bare life, you lucky Poindexter, you.
There’s also some benefits for those who stick to magazines and newspapers, a.k.a. books for people who can’t handle books. These fake geeks will experience an 11 percent reduction in likelihood of death, though they also have to clear the bar of more than seven hours a week of reading their easily digestible word appetizers. Also, it must be acknowledged, as CBS does in a report on this new study, that book readers may simply live longer anyway, since they’re usually healthier, wealthier, and better educated—and also more likely to smugly view the phrase “clinging to guns and religion” as the indictment it is, rather than seeing it as a badge of honor. Ironically, reading all those books and surviving will soon leave you at the mercy of all those deranged doomsday preppers and their stockpiles of automatic weapons, once you’ve lived enough years to confront the spiraling disorder of a world unable to provide clean water and air to a majority of its citizens. But on the plus side, George Miller will be hailed as the new Nostradamus.
So breathe deep, dweebs, and enjoy those extra months of oxygen. Of course, this can be filed under the same heading as those studies saying reading makes you more empathetic, keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age, reduces stress, and helps you sleep, all of which has helped transform human society into the very chill and relaxed culture in which we exist today. Now, let’s stow this information away, and get back to angrily debating whether there should’ve been more or less of the Joker in Suicide Squad or whatever.