The Irrevocable Benefits of Reading
Think back to the first book you remember reading (mine was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss-very sophisticated I know). Now, think about all the books you’ve read since then. Are you overwhelmed by the sheer number of books you've read? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. According to Author Gary W. Moore (Playing with the Enemy, Final Service, Hey Buddy), the act of reading is at an all-time low in the United States: 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book after graduation.
Another semi-sad fact is that 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after graduation. Equally sad is that 57 percent of purchased books are not read to completion! So many sad, lonely books. Finally, 80 percent of U.S. families did not purchase or read a book last year. Yikes.
Why should you care? Well for starters, this Oxford University Study found that teens who read are 39% (girls) and 58% (boys) more likely to hold a managerial or professional job. For teens who didn’t read, those numbers fell to 25% for girls and 48% for boys. To be short: reading makes you smarter.
I think people also forget how vital literacy is to function in society. What would happen if you couldn’t read or write? You’d have a difficult time landing a job, much less navigating the grocery aisle or understanding people from other countries or cultures. Reading allows you to learn from other people, experience their fears, hopes, anger, and apply lessons to your own life. You can read anything: fiction, nonfiction, manga, memoirs, newspapers, magazines, any of it is fair game. And hey, reading also:
Reading necessitates brain power, forcing you to use your brain in ways that watching movies, playing video games, and pursuing social media just doesn’t. Reading also forces you to reason out things that are unfamiliar and create characters and contexts in your brain—essentially creating a movie in your mind. Whether you’re reading a book for fun or reading to learn, you’re concentrating in a way that improves focus, which carries over into other aspects of your life.
Have you ever cried while reading? Maybe gotten horny, laughed, or been perplexed? All of that is empathy, my friend. I remember crying while reading Marley and Me, and who wouldn’t? Reading allows you to experience the thoughts and feelings of another person, which is an amazing skill to apply to real life. You will become more knowledgeable, more understanding, and more empathetic (i.e. tolerant).
The average 20-year old American knows 42,000 words, which doesn't seem all that impressive when you think about it. Published in Frontiers of Psychology, this study asked 220,000 people to review 100 words (some real and some made up). Apparently, I scored 77%, which is "good." To figure out your vocabulary, take a little break, take the test here. Maybe you’re reading a novel and you come across a word you don’t know. You figure it out through context clues, or you might look it up, but you know a word you didn’t before. Feel that? That’s your brain growing.
Neil Gaiman gave a lecture entitled “Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming,” for the Reading Agency on Monday, October 14, 2013 in London. In it he said,
“There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.”
Gaiman, who has authored over 45 books of fiction, including titles such as American Gods and Coraline, understands something intrinsically valuable: reading for pleasure opens the door to new ideas, concepts, and worldviews that not only expand the imagination but foster communication. What is life if not an endless cycle of communication? Everything—business, relationships, athletics, friendships—rely on strong communication, i.e. words.
Maybe you can answer my question, because so far Google has let me down: are people born creative or is it something we acquire over time? Nature or nurture? Egad. I'm inclined to believe that creativity is a discipline, and the more you practice, the more creative you will become. One way to constantly grow, gain new ideas, and become more creative is to read. How dull would your creative work become if you relied on new thoughts to magically grow from your own brain? As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
The way I personally create something new is to take inspiration from a million different things and smush them together in a unique way that no one else has done before. Creative people are innovators. They are problem solvers. If you want to remain relevant and useful in the workplace, creativity is a necessary skill, and nothing enhances or expands your creative abilities like reading does.
Discipline, Memory, and Self-Esteem
Have you ever done something you didn’t especially want to do? Work out, go to work, clean the toilet…you get my point. Maybe you don’t feel like doing any of these things, but you feel better after you do. You feel accomplished when you leave the office after a productive and synergistic work day. You learned a thing or two, and your self-esteem is soaring. Reading is the same way. Schedule 30 minutes a day to read, and make sure it’s something you enjoy—literally anything. Fan fiction, the newspaper, Cosmo, Faulkner, whatever. Studies show that if you don’t read often, it becomes harder to remember facts…you’re brain literally plateaus and starts slacking off. Reading is like going to the gym for your brain. Books are protein shakes. You get my point.
Some of my current favorite books include: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer, The Sports Gene by David Epstein, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham.
P.S. What are you reading right now?? Drop me a recomendation!