why read? (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on august 16, 2020

Why do people read? What motivation do we, as humans, have for perusing the written histories and fantasies of our predecessors?

For me, the answer is so self-evident that asking the question itself is superfluous. It's like asking, "Why do we breathe?" or, "Why do we eat?" Reading is something that I do naturally, almost spontaneously. It's not a matter of whether I read but of what I read.

For others, though, the answer is not so simple. Some find reading a dreaded task that must be done, just like taking out the trash or washing the dishes. Some even cite reading as unnecessary and bothersome and forgo it entirely.

With such a wide range of responses to reading, some might mistakenly assume that the necessity of reading is subjective. On the contrary, however, I believe that reading is indispensable to our mental stability and well-being, whatever form it comes in. Some read novels, some anthologies, biographies, poetry collections, online articles, or blogs (like this one). No matter how one reads, reading is infinitely beneficial and worthy of your time.

Let's dissect this a bit. Most people take for granted that reading is of value, whether they enjoy the process or not. Why is that? What is it about reading that we see as good?

I fear that many people don't actually know. They have some intuitive knowledge that reading is good for you, but they never explore it and ask themselves why. And that, I believe, is why they don't enjoy reading. They don't know why they're doing it.

So, why do we read? I read because the act brings me joy. But what about it is enjoyable?

The main aspect of reading that I enjoy is the chance to experience new settings and circumstances that you would otherwise never have. When I read, I find myself injected into the narrative, ensconced in the author's world. I am temporarily unaware of everything around me and instead dream up a new alternate reality that I can explore at my leisure. It's like being in a dream: when you wake up, you realize how ridiculous it was, but you never notice when you are in the moment. Reading is similar, except that you never feel silly afterward because the world you explored was (for the most part) logical and reasonable.

Why is this good for us? I believe that this experience gives us a chance to place our minds in different circumstances that they haven't seen yet so that when we encounter similar situations, we already know what to do. It's like a vaccine, training our bodies to respond correctly when they reach a problem.

The best part about it is that we get to enjoy the process. Reading is a form of learning that doesn't have to choose between quality education and fun experiences.

Secondly, reading serves as a way to build up and strengthen our communication skills. When you read the opinions of dozens of independent minds, you gain knowledge of the competing views that exist and subconsciously note the arguments and the rhetorical devices they use to make their point. When you, in turn, craft your own statements, you both are informed about opposing viewpoints and have tools to help your arguments sink in. This advantage doesn't only apply to writing either; even in everyday conversations, the skills you gain in reading shine through.

We can see, then, that reading is beneficial. But as I said, most people don't argue that point. If they understand, though, why do they read begrudgingly, as if they would rather be doing something else?

I think the answer lies in methodology. If you aren't enjoying reading, then you're doing it all wrong. Not that you're stupid or unable to read well, you just don't fully understand the purpose. The points I mentioned above are undoubtedly significant reasons that you should read, but neither is the main reason. We read to have fun. We read because the process gives us an internal sense of joy. We read because reading is what made us who we are. If you're not enjoying your reading, you aren't doing it right.

So how do you read? First, you need to remember that the end goal is enjoying yourself, not in making yourself dazzlingly smart or the best writer the world has ever seen. If you're only reading because of what it can give you, you won't get anything out of it. Sure, you may learn some vocabulary, and it certainly won't hurt you, but none of the real benefits will come to you.

Second, make sure you're reading something you enjoy. If you're reading a book and find that you aren't enjoying it, put it down and pick up something else. You don't have to read the books with the highest vocabulary level or most packed with scientific knowledge. Even read a children's book if that's what you enjoy. It doesn't matter. At this point, the goal is to get your foot in the door. Once you've started on your journey, you can worry about moving on to higher-level texts. Also, some people have the misconception that you shouldn't reread books. This view is entirely wrong; rereading strengthens the neural pathways that the first time created. Besides, rereading ensures that you're reading something you enjoy. If you're in a lull where you aren't finding anything new that you like, rereading keeps your mind positive toward reading so that you still enjoy it when you find something new.

Reading is one of the greatest pastimes known to man. It has immense value to our mental state of mind, but we still regard it as a restful pastime. It has the unique ability to make us enjoy learning. And if we can learn to enjoy learning through reading, might that attitude not spread to other areas of our lives? It's worth a shot.

Liked what you read?

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