The Benefits of Reading
“I think part of the fun, for me, was being part of some kind of an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff we can’t normally talk about.”
David Foster Wallace
Before jumping into the heart of Vritti blogs, I’d like to touch on reading and why it’s important. It’s easy to say reading and books are at risk of going extinct in the age of the internet and smart phones, but that’s nothing new – I suspect people have been predicting the end since the first “motion pictures” came on the scene. Books will never go away – they’re too important.
That said, their prevalence does seem to be shrinking, and it’s no wonder why. Compared to watching a movie or Netflix in terms of an effort-to-pleasure ratio, Netflix wins every time – it’s not even close. It takes next to no effort, is extremely entertaining, and is only getting better as there are some seriously good writers and studios creating top-notch content. When it all comes together with the music, sets, cinematography, etc. it can really be a memorable experience, I don’t want to brush that off. I mean c’mon, The Dark Knight?? Who doesn’t want to spend an afternoon crushing episodes of The Office.
But there is that matter of effort and pleasure…and how when you make the effort and invest yourself into something meaningful, it’s not just about getting some sort of good feeling out of it – it transforms you for the better. Reading books can do that for you.
Based on my own and others experience, there are five reasons why you should take the time and read a book.
Connection, Thoughts, and Emotions
“Some books seem like a key to unfamiliar rooms in one’s own castle.”
Books help us process our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes all it takes is one sentence to be the last puzzle piece that brings the whole picture together.
Good books (and I should clarify I’m talking exclusively about good books because there are plenty of bad ones that don’t do any of this stuff) help you understand and work through confusion, or sadness, or frustration, or fear largely because they remind you that you aren’t the only one feeling this way.
Part of the problem may be you don’t know what the problem is, and finally someone describes exactly what you’ve been thinking but couldn’t quite put into words. Even though you’re not interacting directly with the author, you build a connection with them for having been through it together. You might start to think who else in your life feels that way too.
“There’s this part that makes you feel full. There’s this part that is redemptive and instructive, [so that] when you read something it’s not just delight – you go, “Oh my God, that’s me! I’ve lived like that, I’ve felt like that, I’m not alone in the world…”
Even if you don’t directly relate to a story, maybe it just makes you feel a certain way – deeply. A rare occurrence when riding on the surface of day-to-day life. It’s our nature to feel strongly and to care. As much as we try to bury or cover it up, books can pierce to our core and reconnect us to our humanity.
That experience brings your true self to the surface, a little less repressed, and a little less tangled.
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.”
“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.”
The world is endlessly expansive and complex. Yes, technically it is finite, but compared to what our human brains can handle, a lifetime doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It’s cliché but the more you read the more you realize how much is out there and how little you know.
Reading brings you out of your little corner of the world and gives you a fresh view. It’s not only a means to better understand your own life, but also the lives/places/times that are completely foreign and wouldn’t experience otherwise.
It places you outside yourself, it’s good to not always be the center of the universe.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Believe it or not, you can be just as excited to sit down with a book as you are for watching a favorite TV show, sports team, video game, etc. That’s in part why series like Harry Potter are so successful.
Even though Kafka might not’ve been into it as much, reading can just be a good time.
Teaching & Guidance
Books that stand the test of time are written by really smart, intuitive people. They’ve been thinking about a particular subject for years, possibly decades, on end and have distilled it down to the essentials. And you’re the beneficiary – no need to reinvent the wheel!
But more than just instructing, books can serve as guides and as role models whether real or imagined, it hardly makes a difference.
Much of my growth as a person I owe to what I’ve read and how it’s shifted me for the better. The beauty is, you get to pick your heroes. You get to choose who you look up to and who you want to be.
It takes work…and you’re rewarded for it
The aforementioned benefits are not unique or exclusive to reading.
The main difference however, and what’s insidious, is it doesn’t take any effort to be a viewer. The heavy lifting is done for you.
When reading you do much of that yourself. Picturing the characters, the scenery, the tone of voice, etc. It takes more work on the front end, but is massively rewarding in a fulfilling and not just entertaining way. It takes discipline to sit down and turn pages in silence as you fill in the gaps – but by investing yourself in the story it feels like you’re a part of it, and it’s unique to you.
It’s often a long process. It may be a while until things really start to take off, let alone resonate. But there’s something about having earned the ending. Good writers won’t leave you hanging either, there’ll be little nuggets along the way.
As with anything, start small and work up to more challenging, more thought-provoking, more emotional, and more meaningful works of art. Building as you go.
“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”