I read a good article today on the HBR blog about the importance of reading. Rising literacy rates are juxtaposed with the sad state of how often and how deeply these literate people actually immerse themselves in books.
Being in HBR, the article mostly discussed how business leaders can be more effective if they are well-read in both business books and literature spanning other topics. But obviously, the benefits extend beyond the business elite.
I know first-hand how important it is to read. It’s changed me as a person, for sure.
It’s only been a couple of years ago since I started reading “for fun”. Years of being pushed through a failing education system which force feeds you the very books you least want to read, and conditions you to read, only to pick out the most highlighted terms (literally) and skim through the rest… well, it’s no wonder that today’s millenials and young professionals aren’t about to pick up a book to read “for fun” anytime soon.
I get it. The only reason I started reading again was because I forced myself to. I remembered that as a youth, I loved reading. It ignited my curiosity. Tickled my imagination. Expanded my vocabulary. Made me more knowledgeable and - dare I say it - smarter than my peers.
Then, I stopped reading. I discovered the same mindless pastimes and distractions that most other teens did, and spurred by the social aspects of those pastimes, stopped reading altogether.
Social media exacerbated it. Blogs made information accessible within a half-pager of text. Twitter squeezed it into 140 characters. 2 minute YouTube videos allowed me to digest information without even reading.
Who wants to read an entire goddamn book when you get get the Spark notes online?
Well, I read extensively online and - less extensively - offline, and I think both channels are important. I think the Internet is a great way to gain a breadth of knowledge about an array of topics of interest. But for me, books serve a different purpose:
1. Books are a much better way of getting in-depth knowledge about any particular topic. Usually, I do enough reading on a topic online to become mildly interested in it, and then I start to pick up books to further educate myself on that subject matter. Online reading serves as a great gateway for that very purpose.
2. I rely on novels to really submerge myself in good storytelling. The art and magic of good storytelling cannot be overstated. I read novels, not to find out what a storyline unravels, but to enjoy how a storyline unravels. I appreciate literary techniques. I appreciate attention to detail. Great character development. The momentary escape from the boundaries of our own lives. And I learned how to empathize with people from walks of life that I hadn’t yet met in real life.
And yes, reading has made me a more open-minded, imaginative, articulate and well-informed person again. Just like it did in my youth. I almost regret having let my early adulthood slip by without having read much, because now, my problem is just the opposite - I can’t consume books fast enough!
I can only wish that everyone has the exact same problem.