For years, a giant paper brick sat on my shelf. Its spine read The Count of Monte Cristo. I avoided taking it down because I had other things to do. It clocked in at over a thousand pages of small print – almost half a million words. It hung like a millstone around the neck of my cultural conscience. It was one of the dreaded “classics” that I should have read long ago but never did.
This was easy to justify. After all, how could a nearly 200-year-old tale of intrigue set in revolutionary France relate to my world of computers and space tourism and YouTube cat videos? I had other books to read, about real things, like how to organize my time.
Then one day, for reasons I can’t recall, I took the book off the shelf, started reading, and got hooked. I read page after page. Hours flew by. I would set it down, and whenever I encountered some unpleasant task, I’d find myself reaching for it again. The world around me disappeared as the count and his elaborate web of plans came alive. Eventually, I would reemerge and fret over the time I’d wasted. I had deadlines to meet, like the one for this column. I had bills to pay and a business to run. What could a made-up story have to do with that?
Everything, according to cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley.