Why Read?

I mean, in a way don’t we read enough as it is anyway? I am on my cell phone the whole day! I get e-mails from work (most of which I try to ignore, despite their painful, assumed implication of importance and necessity of keeping my job), and I get text messages from friends (and though most of the written words are abbreviated, I clearly conceive their meaning, lol). I visit and read blogs whenever I want to know how to do something (like get a high score on Guitar Hero, or get cheats for Candy Crush). I am on Facebook, so I constantly read status updates of my remarkably insightful and whiny friends. So really, do we need to read anymore? And novels? Forget about it. Why do I need to waste my precious time reading about life when I can live it? That living may consist of watching TV and playing video games, but come on, that’s much more fun that reading isn’t it?

In many ways the above argument is not entirely invalid, (and non-readers aren’t necessarily always playing video games and watching TV) we do spend a decent amount of time reading, though that reading may be disjointed and unfocused. Still, reading literature or even a non-fiction is not essential to our survival. In fact less and less people read a complete book every year. (Check out this article at The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/) Nonetheless, people can live successful and fruitful lives without reading a book. So, why read?

Everybody who truly loves to read has many personal reasons of their own, many of which overlap and many which do not. For me, reading is an addition, I don’t have to do it, but I do it for pleasure. As everyone else, I only have one life to live. Through books, however, (particularly fiction books) I get to add a lot of different lives to my existing one. After all, I would never get a chance to be a swashbuckling adventurer unless I had read “The Three Musketeers” by Alexander Dumas. I would never be groomed by apes and experience the thrills of the African jungle unless I had engaged my imagination in Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan.” Without reading, I perceive myself being less empathetic and less able to relate to people I am unfamiliar with. These reasons are surely anecdotal and very unique to myself, but I am willing to guess that many readers would agree with me.

Leaving personal opinions aside, I was most convinced that reading is important by a research report from the National Endowment of the Arts written by Dana Gioia. The report is from 2007 and may therefore be a little outdated, but it nonetheless makes a convincing argument for the wide benefits of reading for all Americans. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

All of the data suggest how powerfully reading transforms the lives of individuals—whatever their social circumstances. Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual’s academic and economic success—facts that are not especially surprising—but it also seems to awaken a person’s social and civic sense. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed. It is reassuring, though hardly amazing, that readers attend more concerts and theater than non-readers, but it is surprising that they exercise more and play more sports—no matter what their educational level. The cold statistics confirm something that most readers know but have mostly been reluctant to declare as fact— books change lives for the better. (Gioia 6)

Truly, academic and financial success are not surprising benefits of reading, (they are so apparent that I did not even need to mention them earlier in this article) what is surprising and thoroughly interesting is that readers are more active that non-readers! This defies the timeless stereotypes of the book worm and anti-social reader. For some more great reasons to read, check out Gioia’s full report at this link, http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/ToRead.pdf and happy reading!

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