I truly and wholeheartedly believe the world would be a better place if everyone considered reading as essential as other daily tasks. I realize that not everyone likes to read; some, in fact, claim to hate it and refuse to voluntarily skim through even a few books a year after they have completed high school.
The result has been, over the last few decades, a disintegration of our civilization on multiple — alarming — levels. As a society, our refusal to read has had detrimental effects: many people’s comprehension, vocabulary, communication, and logical thinking has suffered; they lack basic spelling, usage, and grammar skills; and they have trouble interacting appropriately with others because they are unable to empathize or connect emotionally. Additionally, while people turn away from books and embrace television and Netflix, for example, they are abdicating any responsibility for deep critical thinking or personal growth, as is it common knowledge that binge-watching American Dad cannot replicate the benefits of a focused long-term plot or the in-depth character study offered in books. Furthermore, by wasting time so contentedly on social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram, people are allowing others to dictate their ethics, self-worth, and interests. “Likes” are very important these days, and young people, in particular, will do or say just about anything to earn approval from strangers online.
Being an optimist, I refuse to believe this change to our culture is permanent. I know that reading offers too many benefits to allow it to “go gentle into that good night.” I will continue to promote reading and encourage my students to engage in it regularly. Below are a few reasons why.
Reading serves many purposes. Historically, story-telling was a way to preserve a culture’s beliefs and to pass on its values to younger generations. (In my opinion, it can definitely do the same today.) Problematically, modern-day reading is mainly seen as simply a leisure activity, done with the intention of providing entertainment, and therefore viewed as a “huge waste of time.” A lot of people would just rather “watch the movie.”
Many times, though, people do not realize exactly how much they can take away from reading, in general. We can study a character’s true motivations and analyze the factors that drive their behaviors. We can pick up on clues that a character may be “unreliable” (and, therefore, untrustworthy) through subtle hints and indirect characterization. We can assess the results of a character’s decisions and actions, examining how it impacts his or her life over a long span of time. We can gain insight by familiarizing ourselves with characters from all walks of life, with varying interests, abilities, and personality traits. This can train us for daily interactions with those around us and help us to better know ourselves.
For example, reading a novel which includes characters who are greedy or selfish can subtly demonstrate the danger of such behaviors in our own lives. Similarly, lovable characters can cause readers to forget their own loneliness for a short time, or lead readers to recognize desirable traits that they can adopt for themselves. Sympathetic characters can ease a reader’s feelings of self-pity by opening his or her eyes to other forms of pain and suffering in the world. Heroes fighting against villains — whether successful in their endeavors or not — can teach readers the importance of standing up for what they believe is right.
There are many genres from which to choose, so with enough searching just about everyone can find a novel that suits their interests. Some prefer true-crime documentaries while others enjoy romance novels. Mystery novels are fun because they enable people to piece together information and attempt to make accurate predictions — they keep people engaged. Science-fiction, fantasy, and mythology can expand people’s imaginations while, often, encouraging personal moral decision-making or ethical soul-searching. Nonfiction selections in the self-improvement, history, or autobiography categories are meant to provide useful information and can help people understand themselves and the world around them more clearly. A few relate best to poetry, as they find that it succinctly expresses their own feelings in unique or unexpected ways, which can be quite comforting. Someone might prefer to read classics, from which they can deduce that, while the world itself has changed greatly over time, human nature and emotions have not.
Reading, most importantly, opens our minds. I have smiled when my favorite characters succeed. I have cried when innocent or helpless characters are killed. I have raged over the injustices characters suffer at the hands of their society. I have been uplifted when characters are able to turn their lives around and make a positive change. I have gained wisdom, courage, and strength from reading about the struggles in other people’s lives. I have educated myself on concepts, ideas, and philosophies about which I had no other way of learning. Reading lets me see the world from many perspectives and experience things I never would otherwise. It allows me to be part of other cultures and travel through time. It helps me to not only visit other worlds, but to live in this one more fully.
Peace and love.