Volume XXVI: The Joy of Reading Outside
And the benefits of embracing warmer weather and longer days
Now that summer is on the horizon here in the Northern Hemisphere (how?!), we’re fully invested in reading-outside season. Whether stopping on a park bench to read a chapter or two between meetings, or spending a full Saturday on a blanket in the sand, the benefits of reading outside prove the activity is more than just enjoyable.
[Dear readers: This issue contains discussions of mental health, anti-LGBTQIA2S+ legislation, gun violence, and white supremacy.]
Walk through any park on a sunny Sunday in the spring or summer and you’re likely to see at least one reader. Sometimes you’ll find them on a bench, sitting against a tree, or spread out on a towel, but no matter the position, there's always an air of surrounding contentment.
As soon as the seasons begin to change and the sun starts to break through the colder months, we find ourselves drawn to local parks. We automatically pack a book in our tote bag just in case we have the opportunity to spend time outside. We plan our free time around gatherings with friends that take advantage of nice weather, planning picnics and hours committed to reading.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased in recent years, there is still much to be done in terms of normalizing medication and mental health care that goes beyond everyday “self care.” (Not to mention strengthening access to mental health care, whether or not an individual has insurance.) While reading is not a substitute or replacement for therapy or medication (although bibliotherapy is becoming increasingly popular!), nor for activism and advocacy for better mental health support and social justice, its benefits on mental health are significant.
What is it about reading in the park or on a beach that brings us so much joy? In this newsletter, we’re diving into the science behind the benefits of reading outside, as well as social justice causes we can get involved with once we practice the self care we need.
A Deeper Look
Multiple studies demonstrate the benefits of reading outside; Some benefits stem directly from reading in the sun, others from simply setting aside the time to be outdoors.
A study published in Cell Reports found that changes in light contrast can “improve current algorithms of image processing and metrics of visual contrast.” What does this mean? Essentially, our brains are more stimulated when we read outside. (Not to mention that natural light is often easier on our eyes, especially when we find a shady spot.)
Additionally, both reading and spending time outside benefit our sleep cycles. The former helps reduce stress, which can lead to a better night’s sleep, and the latter strengthens our circadian rhythms. For some, reading in bed is a strong way to reduce stress right before sleep, but for others, doing so might cause their brain to disassociate the space from sleeping. Reading outside before the sun sets, whether in a park, backyard, or on a balcony, can be a great solution.
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, researchers found that “earthing,” or “direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth,” has a positive impact on humans, including those experiencing poor sleep and chronic pain. Reading outside is a great way to connect with the Earth in such a way.
And, of course, there are the benefits that come with simply being outside: vitamin D, which boosts your immune system; stress reduction; and heightened senses.
Of course, reading outside is not always accessible. Whether outdoor spaces aren’t nearby, transportation is missing or inadequate, we have a chronic illness or disability, or the nature of our job or educational training prevent us from spending time in nature, there are ways to obtain the benefits while inside:
Add plants to your indoor space. Whether flowers, herbs, or greenery, the plants can increase your visual and physical connection to nature.
Create a reading nook by a sunny window. Reading by the open window will bring in fresh air and heighten your sensory experience.
Play nature noises and light a corresponding candle. Bringing in the ocean, birds, or wind through sound and smell can decrease stress.
For more ways to bring the outdoors indoors, check out this article in Self.
Ways to Respond
Sustaining our mental health so we can best fight for our own future and the futures of others is essential. Reading as a tool for self care is a phenomenal way to recuperate before continuing our advocacy work.
Whether already passionate about an issue or interested in learning more about current social justice movements, there are plenty of ways to get involved. We’ve outlined a few below, and have also included resources on how to take action through donating, volunteering, and/or protesting.
Whether limiting/banning gender affirming care, censoring history, or restricting bathroom access and correct pronoun usage, legislators across the country are rolling back progress that has been made toward equitable rights for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals. These actions will have a direct impact on the lives of many, particularly LGBTQIA2S+ youth. June is Pride Month. Before you support any organization claiming to care for the LGBTQIA2S+ community, check what said company has or has not done in the wave of all these bills and backlash.
Recently, Florida passed a number of dangerous, anti-LGBTQIA2S+ bills. Learn more about those in this post from Schuyler Bailar.
Vote! Check what bills are being considered/passed in your state and learn about the representatives supporting and opposing them.
Directly related to the bans on LGBTQIA2S+ care are book bans. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in bans and challenges to books, especially those by and about LGBTQIA2s+ and BIPOC individuals. Although those pushing for bans are the minority, their vocal efforts are loud, organized, and have prompted numerous bills to be passed at local and state levels (with attempts at a national level, too). These bans restrict youth—and sometimes readers of all ages—from accessing stories that build empathy, emotional resonance, safety, and sense of self. Recently, Penguin Random House announced that they are suing a Florida district with PEN America. While the action is significant, we can’t help but question why it took them so long to do so, why the publishing industry overall has shown little interest or concern, and what it will take for them all to do more.
Learn more on how to take action in this roundup.
Check out our recent Instagram Live for additional ways to get involved.
We’ve all witnessed news cycle after news cycle detailing the latest mass shooting. And even beyond mass shootings, gun violence plays a horrific every day role in our society, including with domestic violence, hate crimes (especially against Black and Brown trans women and Indigenous women), and even accidents. The U.S. has proven itself to be a country more concerned about an outdated, 200+ year old document than the safety of children, women, and systemically excluded and discriminated against individuals. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Learn more about taking action in this post.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic that are rooted in and/or guided by an intersectional feminist lens.
Each published writer will receive their choice of one of the following:
$25.00 gift card to bookstore of choice
$25.00 donation to organization of choice
Feel free to reach out with any questions and submit your pieces either at the link below or via email, with the subject line Collected Words Submission.
We promise not to judge your acts of self care.
We personally cannot wait to spend as much time as possible outside this summer. Some of our favorite parks in San Francisco and Portland are just a walk away from beloved bookstores and coffee shops.
We’ll be back in a few weeks with a deep dive into a recent read—we’ve been loving Trick Mirror and Still Life)*. In the meantime, make sure to check out our free downloads (wallpapers, templates, and more), and our exclusive downloads for newsletter subscribers with password newsletterdownloads.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.
*We receive a commission off any books sold through our affiliate links.