In the past year or so, less than half of all Americans have read any kind of literature – that includes other forms of works of fiction, such as books, poems, plays, and short stories. And that statistic isn’t just reserved to printed pages; it includes literature published online, too. For many, reading has only ever been something assigned by a teacher, a thing you had to do in order to get a good grade. I am here to argue that reading is a worthwhile pursuit, one that can enrich your life in unimaginable ways.
Reading relies on the sense of vision (for the blind, this is the sense of hearing or the sense of touch). Every day we read on our devices as we respond to emails and tend to social media accounts, but the rate we’re reading literature is at an all-time low. So why should you look at a book?
If you read, you’ll be smarter.
Reading is a form of receptive language. Consider language as the exchange of information. When you read, you’re taking in information that did not come from you, but rather, from the original author. That means that when you crack open a book and read, you’re taking in:
- new ideas
- unexamined viewpoints
- facts you did not know before
- someone else’s perspective
I think you’ll agree with me that those are all things that can help you cultivate your intelligence and understand the world better. Furthermore, the more you familiarize yourself with particular authors, the better able you will be to understand others when they refer to works or situations as Orwellian or Machiavellian, Dickensian or Kafkaesque.
Improve your grammar.
When we read most literature, especially if it is in our second language, we are exposing our brains to language that is more complex than what we produce in everyday speech. Repeated exposure to more complex language can improve your language abilities in a natural way. (It’s how children learn to communicate – taking in the more advanced language of those around them.) If you have trouble with coming up with the right word order in embedded clauses and other complex grammar structures, seeing several different examples of the structure in writing can make learning these new forms easy – and interesting.
Grow your vocabulary.
Reading improves your vocabulary. When you come across an unfamiliar word in a book, the other words on the page give you enough context to figure out what the word means. Unlike in a conversation, reading allows you to look ahead at the rest of the sentence, so you can then create an understanding of the word’s meaning in your head. This is a more natural way to learn new words. The neural connections between a word you learn from your reading material and related words (either because they have similar meanings or because they sound alike) are stronger compared to when you try to learn a word by memorizing its meaning.
Relate to others
Reading on a regular basis enhances empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Studies have shown that people who read fiction are more empathetic than people who read nonfiction, or don’t read at all. Being able to relate to others is a building block for a good social life and, therefore, better overall quality of life.
Reading is a unique form of communication in that written material, for the most part, has been edited. It conveys ideas in a way that the writer wants them to be conveyed. Before its release, written material has been reflected upon, rewritten multiple times, and edited with a reader like you in mind. The best ideas come in written form, and they are waiting for you to explore them.
These benefits all come together to help you out with communication in general. When you have a great vocabulary and a solid grasp of complex grammatical structures, you are better able to engage in wordplay such as puns and other jokes. An ability to break the ice will make it much easier to let them hear your ideas.