Ten Good Reasons for Reading
To all the books I've read before..
A parent's dossier for reluctant young readers
Why have I got to read? My young niece asks that question with widened eyes every time I enquire into her progress with books and stories. Her question to me has prompted (after much head scratching on my part) the following answers. And, yes, she will be receiving a copy of this.
The world belongs to those who can describe it, said Leonardo da Vinci. There really was never a leader in any field of law, politics or business who did not improve him or herself by reading. Sure, Genghis Khan was illiterate at the outset of his career. Then, he invaded China – and found the natives reading and writing. Next thing, he had hired himself a personal tutor. Abraham Lincoln’s political career began after he ploughed through a pile of law books. HG Wells spurned his family's many attempts to turn him into a respectable shop assistant. Eventually, he won a scholarship to train as a teacher.
The reader learns how to express him or herself in words. There really is no better way to encounter and learn to utilise new words. This is so whether the subject is writing or speaking. We live in a time when all of the arguments surrounding the “necessity” of literacy have been vanquished. From sending a simple text message or an appearance over Skype to writing a grant proposal or a full-blown novel, a command of words is a vital tool in today’s world.
Reading routinely is a way of learning to think. Much depends on what you read, of course. But even the most lightweight work of fiction progresses with a beginning, middle and end. The reader is introduced to characters that enact a drama. Their actions, good or bad, contribute to the outcome of the tale. The young reader slowly learns how action correlates with consequence.
The reader learns about emotional engagement. We all have an emotional register that is used to a greater or lesser extent. Certain subjects experience greater joy or sorrow, depending on their life’s own circumstance. An imbalance in any one direction is not a good thing, as it leaves the subject unprepared for any great change of fortune in later life. Engaging with a character in a book and experiencing his or her triumphs and failures vicariously is a way of correcting this imbalance. Sure, the same experiences can be gotten through movies, but through reading directly the subject can learn to express his or her emotional challenges in words – see above.
Reading enables the reader to transcend the limitations of the material plane. We live in a world of vastly differing fortunes. Reading is a democratic activity that enables the reader to move into worlds that he otherwise could not access. The reader can explore the past, move in an imagined future, climb high mountains and dive to the bottom of the sea, all without leaving the house he lives in. Reading enables vast numbers of people to enjoy the same experiences – a tenet of democracy.
Reading enables the reader to identify people who are like him or her. The reader learns that he is not alone; that people the world over are more alike than not. He learns that countless others share his joys and sorrows, his aspirations, limitations and frustrations, his fears and his hopes. The reader soon learns that his problems and challenges are not as daunting as they might seem, thus encouraging him to improve his environment.
Reading draws the wool from your eyes and mind. As he expands his mind, the reader is less likely to be drawn in by political rhetoric, or dazzled by celebrity and nonentity. The reader is more likely to question long-held beliefs, to turn ideas inside out and develop the mindset that leads to freedom of thought.
Reading is a way of acquiring knowledge. There are practical skills that cannot be gotten “out of a book” of course, but reading allows the reader access to other men’s minds, to garner ideas that transcend this plane. Reading enables the expert in one area of learning to acquire knowledge accumulated by other experts, which leads to cross-fertilization of concepts, thus to new ideas and inventions.
Reading is a way to access cultural communities. Yes, this does include the Harry Potter fan club! As you grow older and seek people who are “like” you, the reader finds that the books and authors he enjoys are more than a fair denominator in deciding to whom to seek out and associate with. After all, a Shakespeare scholar from London can communicate easily with a Shakespearian in Sydney, Hong Kong, New York…
Reading enables the reader to realise himself. The discerning reader acquires an armament of ideas, quotes and defences that come to his aid in time of need. The freed mind is a plane that no one can harm or hurt, but a form of capital that will certainly be added to during life. The reader learns to listen to his opponents (in business, war, politics) the same way he’s paid attention to books, and learn from them, which brings me back to my first clause: the world belongs to... From then onwards, the man who realises himself through reading often aspires to be a writer – but that is another story.
All of the books I have ever read, most especially the works of William Shakespeare