Before I tapped into my creative side, I was a reader. Still am, of course. I’ve always enjoyed reading. A big chunk of my childhood and teenage years were spent with my nose in a book. I honestly don’t remember any other toys other than Atari, later Nintendo, and some cheap, metal/plastic cooking set which I used Play-Doh to ‘make’ food I would ‘cook’ on it. But books were my childhood toy.
The library was my ‘hood. I was fortunate enough to have parents who didn’t mind taking me the library on a very regular basis. Probably helped it was close to home and school. I loved my school library, too. I often spent my lunches sitting in the library doing homework so I could get a head start on it. If I got stuff done early, that meant I had more time to read.
But this post isn’t to wax poetic about the library, I’ve already done that, instead I want to just briefly talk about why I personally think it is important to read.
1) Reading is fun. If you think reading is boring then you clearly haven’t found whatever catches your fancy. Once you do, devour all the books you can. Don’t worry about what is popular or ‘smart’ to read. Reading is about finding genres and authors that grab your interest. One of the best feelings in the world is just spending hours reading a good book without realizing it. Or forgoing sleep because you just have to finish. Real life be damned! Even better is when you can discuss what you’ve read with others either through a book club, friends or family, or online. Think about all the interesting discussions you can have.
2) Reading expands your world. For me, reading is like a TARDIS from Dr. Who . The TARDIS allows the Doctor to travel to the past, present, and future. The Doctor meets all kind of people whether average people, historical figures, or alien species representing diverse backgrounds. Books are the same thing. I can travel back to ancient Rome in one book then pick up another book set far off in the future on a planet nowhere near Earth. What an easy and cheap way to time travel. Books also give insight into different cultures whether the story is located in another country or world or in a different time period.
3) Reading makes you more sympathetic and empathetic. By reading stories set in a world different from my own, I am offered a glimpse into someone else’s life. For example, I’ve read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini with very little knowledge about the world it is set in. I feel for the main character and his lifelong struggle. I understand, even if I don’t agree with, his crucial decision that changes his life and his best friend’s life forever. Good books have the power to cause us to reexamine how we view our current world, to connect with what has happened to others, even if they are fictional characters. It’s not unusual for me to spend hours just thinking about a book after I’m done with it. I appreciate the insight to be gained from expanding my horizons.
4) Reading can be empowering. Another benefit is if a reader picks up a book and reads about a character going through a similar experience they themselves have gone through, it can be empowering. That sense of ‘I’m not alone in this world.’ I know that after I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain I can honestly say it empowered me. Based on scientific research, I learned that how I think, feel, and react in many situations are normal for an introvert. For the first time in my life I heard the message nothing is wrong with me despite society stating otherwise. For example, people frequently find strength and solace in religious books. Or from a variety of self-help books yet fiction books can empower a reader depending on their subject matter.
5) Reading improves writing. This is true regardless if your chosen profession is writing or not. As a writer, we are told it is just as important to read as much as we can because it will improve our writing. I’m paraphrasing William Faulkner but he is famous for saying ‘Read everything you can. Read the bad. Read the good.’ Bad writing inspires us to not make the same mistakes. Good writing inspires us to up our own skills set. If I didn’t read, my skills as a writer couldn’t continue to evolve. Writing a lot certainly contributes but that is just one part to improving my writing.
So why read? Reading makes life more enriching, inspires, has the potential to change lives, makes us smarter, makes us more aware of the world, and connects us all. If you don’t currently read, I urge you to find something that ignites that desire. If you do read, awesome and continue to challenge yourself by expanding your horizons. If you are a parent with young children, read to them every night no matter how many times they ask for you to read the same story. That’s a sign they are engaged. Take them to the library every week and check out as many books as their little arms can carry. For parents with older children, take them to the library and bookstores or sit down with them to figure out which books they’d like to read on their e-reader.