What Good is Reading, Anyway?

I was in a group of new folks and we were forced to do one of those awful icebreakers. “Pretend you’re on a deserted island for a year and you can only bring 1 book, 1 song (?), and one practical item. The basics are supplied for you. What do you bring?”

I was astounded at the number of people in the group of seemingly educated folks who not only couldn’t pick a book, but said they couldn’t even think of a book. Didn’t even know the last book they’d read.

One guy picked The Hunger Games “because it will make me think about survival and stuff” and one woman picked “that one book I had to read in high school about kids on an island.” She meant Lord of the Flies, and was a bit surprised when we pointed out that one doesn’t end well.

(I picked The Lord of the Rings, if it makes a difference. It’s both long and incredibly re-readable, and it’s been awhile since I’ve read it all anyway.)

I was incredibly disappointed in these new not-yet-friends, and couldn’t help like feeling like Gulliver in his eponymous travels, trying to communicate with the Yahoos. Or maybe that makes me a Houyhnhnm, and I’m the one out of place.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the relative value of reading. Of course, being a writer and editor and general appreciator of the written word, I personally value it quite a lot. But if all these otherwise lovely people can’t so much as name a recent title, maybe I’m being antiquated and longing after telegrams when everyone else has moved on to this new-fangled telephone.

Unfortunately, I’ve got science on my side. There is evidence, based on research done at the University of Toronto, that reading fiction makes people better able to handle ambiguity. Basically, reading about imaginary scenarios allows you to think deeply about situations outside of your own life and consider more options than you otherwise might. It’s mind-broadening.

Personally, I feel like open-mindedness is a characteristic our modern society could use a heckuva lot more of, particularly as we are able to communicate globally and encounter people of backgrounds formerly unimaginable to us. American politics in particular seems to have grown more and more divisive; perhaps what we need is some sort of national book club. We can call it “On the Same Page.”

Additionally, I found another study quite pertinent. Reading makes us more human.

Contemplate the gravity of that statement for a moment. More human. Woah.

The idea here is that reading is one of those things that humans have managed to do that other species have not. It may even be one of the few things that truly separates us from other creatures in this world. Interpreting written works involves basic brainpower (the actual act of reading) as well as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connections. There is a lot to offer between two covers of a book.

I find fiction–broadly including video games, movies, really good TV shows (no reality TV dreck, thankyouverymuch), and of course books–awakens part of my spirit and mind I otherwise wouldn’t have much of an outlet for. I don’t think I could go without it. In fact, I finished reading a book and realized I didn’t have another promptly cued up. I was a bit frantic until I found a new one…15 minutes later. I am literally never truly without a book, and I hope to spread my joy of reading with the icebreaking group, and with others. We–like libraries–are places of infinite potential, if only we explore.


Filed under writing

2 responses to “What Good is Reading, Anyway?

  1. OMG! Reading Rainbow! I LOVED that show when I was young 😀

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