Someone asked me the other day, “Why should I read? In an age where everything is on computers, why do I need to books?” This person was serious and needed reasons to read. My first thought was, “You idiot.” I mean, good lord. Asking a writer about the benefits of reading? You might as well wave a red flag in front of a bull and then wait to get gored.
Then I slowed down and thought about it. If this person isn’t a reader by default, if their parents never modeled reading for them and their education never prioritized it, then of course they’re not going to know why reading is important. Sadly, there are many people like that out there. Particularly in the world today where kids are brought up on computers and schools are too busy teaching to tests to also teach the benefits of reading. There are a lot of people missing out on the world of books.
So here you go. Here are all the reasons to read that I know.
It’s entertaining. You know the saying, “It’s like TV for your brain?” Exactly.
It can be free or very cheap entertainment. Not only is it fun, if you use libraries and used book stores, it’s incredibly cheap. Cheaper by far than cable or streaming subscriptions.
You learn stuff. Yeah, you can learn on the internet or TV, but there’s something about having a deeper take on the topic and the ability to take in the information at your own pace that beats screen learning.
It improves your brain. Studies show that reading can help stave off things like Alzheimer’s and age related memory loss.
Reading develops critical thinking skills. Now more than ever we need to learn and practice the ability to sort facts from lies; to evaluate the accuracy of information. Reading “deep takes” on a subject from a variety of sources will refine your BS detector and teach you how to think about your information and its sources in a critical manner.
Improves empathy. When you read about people who are different from you, whether they’re fictional or real, you learn how to put yourself in their shoes. You see that there are ways of living that are different from yours, yet still valid. It makes you a nicer, more tolerant person.
Builds vocabulary. Read the words, look up the ones you don’t know and, voila, you have a better vocabulary. This makes you seem more intelligent which can be all kinds of useful when looking for jobs or navigating the world.
Helps recover your focus and concentration. The digital world is wrecking our attention spans. You can get it back, but you have to make a sustained effort to focus on something. Reading books works nicely, as long as you keep the screens in another room.
It helps you solve problems. Whether it’s through self-help books or learning a new skill, books can teach us all kinds of things. Sure, you can learn some of this stuff online, but there’s something about working through a book, taking the time to ponder the things you learn, and really studying the text that makes book learning superior when it comes to retaining and implementing the lessons you learn.
There’s something for everyone. Yeah, sure, there are probably TV shows for everyone, but don’t discount books as a way to find something you’ll love. This is particularly true if you get off the mainstream path and look into indie authors and emerging forms of storytelling.
It helps you make sense of your world. Instead of consuming information like candy in tiny bites that mean nothing, reading is like lingering over a nutritious meal. You have the opportunity to fully engage with the information, to receive deeper takes from credible sources, and to learn how history has shaped what you experience today.
It’s a great model for your kids. If you want your kids to be readers, the best thing you can do is read in front of them. They model what they see, so let them see you read.
It’s relaxing. Nothing’s more chill than curling up on the couch in the quiet with a book and a snack.
It’s cheap travel. Okay, there’s nothing that quite beats seeing a place in person, but sometimes that’s out of the question. Instead, you can read about a place and visit in your head. That’s true of real places and fictional worlds. How else are you ever going to go to a magical school, or fly through the galaxy visiting other planets?
Reading can be social. Maybe you join a book club, or talk about books over the water cooler. Maybe you go to a book signing and meet other fans of the author. If you’re reading non-fiction and go to a group that deals with the issue you’re reading about, you might meet equally passionate people. Reading can give you a chance to meet new people and engage with others who are passionate about books and the topic at hand.
You might live longer. It’s possible that book readers live up to two years longer than non-readers. And that’s irrespective of age, gender, wealth or other factors.
It can help you sleep. We now know that the blue light from screens interferes with sleep patterns. But reading books carries no such baggage (as long as you’re reading a book, not on a tablet). Plus, it relaxes your brain, pushes away the cares of the day, and allows you to slow down and get ready for sleep.
It improves your creativity. Reading makes you more creative. It sparks ideas and shows you connections between concepts in ways that other media does not. Reading forces your brain to make the connections between what you’re reading now and what you’ve read before. Through that process, you often see synergies that you didn’t see before. When you learn how to recognize those and implement them in your life, you become more creative.
It can save your life. I’m not a big fan of reading to diagnose your health problems because you can scare the crap out of yourself. But reading about health, wellness, and mental health can make you more aware of what certain symptoms may mean, when to go to the doctor, and how to prevent many common issues. And if you have a condition, reading can make you a better advocate for your own care.
Makes it easier to navigate life. When you read about how other people handle problems and navigate daily life, it can give you a blueprint for your own life. Even fiction can be valuable for this. Reading can teach you how to handle break-ups, job losses, death, marriages, divorces, career changes, etc. Just seeing that other people get through this stuff is comforting, even if the people aren’t real.
It’s offline. We all need a little more time offline these days. Put down the phone and reengage with something real for a while.
How else are you going to talk to geniuses? If you want to learn from the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Einstein, Da Vinci, etc. you’d better go to the books. There’s no better way to learn from world leaders, religious figures, philosophers, and other incredibly smart and creative people.
You want to be a writer. Writers need to read, and often. It’s the best way to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what’s happening in the field.
(P.S. If you’re a writer and you’re looking for reasons to write, I’ve already covered that topic!)
There are probably many more, but these are the biggest reasons to read that I know. Do you have any other reasons to read? Add ’em in the comments below!
(Image by Bibliotheek Bornem)