The Importance of Reading

Because understanding life can help us it's tempting to look to what others might have to say about their interpretations of the world, with sentiments that suggest we devote ourselves to reading books. But in truth, despite the immeasurable value inherent in interpreting knowledge frozen in texts, reading goes beyond a commitment to understanding pages inscribed with symbols depicting ideas, concepts and observations about the world.

Reading is intrinsic to our interface with the world. It is how we absorb cues about how we might live. We know to walk, write and eat by an innate ability to recognize, decode and formulate patterns; we inherently interpret sensory inputs forwarded our way from the external world. 

With no intent to dismiss the task of deciphering texts, reading can be understood anew: as an activity, or a collection of activities, aimed at interpreting the observable world. An effort to ease through the condition of living and experience life in a way that facilitates meaningful survival.

On pondering methods to deploy to understand the world via texts, we might find ourselves hesitant to engage our mental faculties. We might see reading (text) as an activity reserved for people with 'brains': we were born with less-than-remarkable IQ; we do anything related to books poorly; we find it a source of mental pain to push past the bore of a boring book. It could be that we find ourselves compelled to push through books, we would feel inadequate for giving up on a revered (but incomprehensible) book. Our excitement about devoting ourselves to books nullifies at the possibility of coming in contact with these kind of 'revered' books. For this reason, we dismiss the activity of reading while professing to our friends about how badly we want to develop the habit - our failure, far from being a demonstration of indolence induced ineptitude, but a response to a personal disbelief in our approach to gaining understanding. 

It is helpful to imagine being held back by a set of problems. Books hold tremendous value but there is too much of them to get by. Also, as Paul Graham puts it, a majority of them are bad. Yet we live through all the nagging emphasis placed on the importance of reading books, all the while questioning any effort we devote to developing the habit because of our certainty that our chosen method fails in its ability to work efficiently - hardly do we remember anything we read. Adept readers, we have noticed, have a strong command of forces about them. They are able to make millions of people in a crowd cheer. They are able to rake in copious amounts of money. They are able to present mind-shattering responses to the deepest questions of life. We, in our rusty relationship with books, lack the time and resources to ever reach such levels of skill. In our despair, we remain rooted on the assumption that we have to be devout disciples of written works while dismissing methods to approach the art for an escape of the pain, along with arrays of exciting avenues for grasping the world, within which books lie along with the rest, as options to choose from. 

Traditionally, watching T.V. and playing video games have been major subjects of rebuke: only the non-serious engage these activities, at the detriment of their minds. Today, in a backdrop of technological progress, Twitter and Facebook users receive all the chastising heat. The person of bookish sensibility looks on to the social avenues with suspicion, feeling such outlets only serve to numb minds. Their sentiment hinges on this curious belief: modelling the nature of things begins and ceases on living with the pages of books. The irony is that the bookish person's affection for books and the non-reader's aversion towards books share a common source: they want accurate models of the world. But while the bookish person thinks books are the only source of understanding the non-reader thinks a relationship with books will only serve as a slowing agent in the pursuit of understanding.

It is important to recognize all the fuzz about the good of reading comes founded on solid grounds. As Maria Popoova observes, "hardly anything does one’s mental, spiritual, and creative health more good than resolving to read." And this feeling has been resonating for a long time.

In the ancient world, at times when access to books were a luxury available to societal elites, the sensible response laid in coveting this (novel) form of media. Powerful people who demonstrated god-like abilities proved that living depended on an intimacy with written works: prophets wielded stones scribbled with divine commandments; healers scribbled symbols that silenced sicknesses; rulers mandated the ruled with scribbles of law. Among the ancient, an approach developed that survival, the variety dabbed with decent doses of meaning, required a valuable skill and that it was to this skill the wise should turn in contact with a complex existence. It was this skill modernity, at its dawn, came to adopt in promoting universal progress in its efforts to bring illumination about unclear terrains of the universe, and that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a daughter of present day modernity, would give voice in her saying, "reading is the best way to understand the complexities of a complex world".

But it is important to carry in mind that a person becomes wise not on the basis of having insatiable information but on the basis of their ability to use information they possess to cut through life. The role of reading is to get us to make sense of the world in which we live. It is rooted in the human trait of observation and interpretation. It opens our minds to perceive, or on a grand scale to intuit at, a universal understanding. Emphasis is often placed on becoming adept at knowing words, getting better at how our eyes move over them on pages, but reading emotional cues of our loved ones, the power dynamic of our society, and the running of our inner lives all carry important value that deserve equal emphasis. 

A fundamental component for reading is questioning. More precisely, curiosity. It is this fuel of interest that propels one to push through the drudgery of finding decent books, kick off a dialogue with a stranger, and in unique cases, maintain a dogged desire to ease a source of difficulty, all for that glorious feeling that comes from unpinning a mind knot and making sense of things. 

The person with utter disregard for interpreting written works deserves no admiration: for he operates with a dispiriting attitude of insouciance towards wisdom. He is so certain and dogged about his understanding only because he hasn't taken on board the crucial reality that a majority of what exists resides in the realm of the unknown. But we needn't confuse this fellow for the one who gives up on the art because of a lack of skill. 

In efforts to develop a healthy relationship with books and reading in general, our starting place should be to dismiss any obligation pointing to a devotion to books. While books hold importance it's counterproductive to place them as ends rather than means. 

Coming across those with a knack for written works can seem profound but it's only because we exaggerate the grandness of their habit. A majority of what lies across life is waiting to be read, the unraveling of which, as the book-reading folks who pull our admiration know, begins at the steps of interests and curiosity. We might crave efficient methods for interpreting texts, and a whole library of written works exist elaborating these methods, but all our efforts would be fruitless without key features. We needn't dismiss the happenings of life upon which books tap their beginnings. We needn't give sole entertainment to dry arrangements of text describing the world. We needn't stifle our interests in pursuit of 'revered' books. We should value interpretation of texts alongside other reading activities. Our starting place should be our curiosity, for it ultimately takes us through books and other reading avenues to what would otherwise lie beyond our reach: understanding.


Post Author: P. W. Uduk 

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