Facebook Share Twitter Share Linkedin Share Pinterest Share
The Joys of Reading

The Joys of Reading

by Chris Petry

Go ahead and groan. It’s okay. I get it. Reading is not for everyone. Indeed, some people will tell you it’s a chore or worse, a punishment. My theory? They’re just not reading the right material. Don’t think I’m here to convince you that you should spend your downtime brushing up on the philosophical musings of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy or crossing off a who’s who list of New York Times Bestsellers. No, I’m here to suggest something a lot less challenging than that: read things centered on subjects you’re already interested in.
Got a sticker on the back of your SUV reading “Dog Mom?” Why not pick up a book that will help you get a little more acquainted with your furry friend’s breed history, psychology, habits, or health and dietary needs? Interested in archery? Fret not, they have books on that! It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading a textbook on literary criticism, an autobiography by your favorite musician, a magazine on Parisian fashion, or a Spider-Man comic, you’re sure to learn something new. Reading about topics to which you’re already acquainted is the perfect way to reintroduce reading as an enjoyable habit as opposed to a teeth-grinding chore.
Once you’ve rewritten your psyche to view reading in a more favorable light, you might find yourself spending more and more time reading than you could have ever imagined, even in your wildest dreams. You might, gasp… find yourself addicted! At which point you’ll inevitably start opening your mind to things outside your wheelhouse. One minute you’ll be gushing over a coffee table book on Turkish Angora kittens and then you’ll be halfway through the complete works of Agatha Christie.
To borrow a common idiom originated by poet Ivan Krylov, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you’re reading this column, you’re probably not in the target audience I’m trying to make the case to. After all, you’re reading right now! Putting that aside a second, have you ever thought about why reading is so important in the first place? How you would convey the significance to a literary novice? If someone who didn’t read were to ask you, “Why should I read,” what would you say? How about countering with another question: Why shouldn’t you read? The benefits are limitless. Below are just a handful.
First off, see the previous paragraph. By reading, you can cure or at least lessen your aversion to reading. So, in the rather likely scenario you’ll need to read (like when signing a legal contract, studying for the real estate exam, or any litany of reasons one might be expected to ingest valuable information), you’ll be able to. Most importantly, you’ll read thoroughly and won’t feel as tempted to skim at a rapid pace, missing important details.
When you read, you give your brain a workout. At the very least, you improve your memorization skills. Think about it. If you’re on page 142 of Stephen King’s classic tale of New England vampirism, Salem’s Lot, you’ve memorized pages of important character details. Details that will be crucial to your understanding of the narrative over the next 500 or so pages. You will experience an actual physiological response to this memorization. Your brain will create new neural pathways, increasing your processing speed and improving memory and focus. This is especially important as we age and see a natural decline in our cognitive function and reaction time. The better shape your brain is in as you depart middle age, the less likely you are to experience serious neurological decline in your golden years.
One of the best reasons to read is that you develop more situational empathy. Which is, of course, a very important trait to have in the real world as you interact with people whose life experiences are far removed from your own. When you’re able to put yourself in the shoes of a character who is different than you, you gain a clearer understanding of other people’s choices, aversions, likes and dislikes, and responsibilities.  The character can be a mid-century steel worker, a REALTOR, a librarian, or a soldier. Maybe they suffer from a chronic illness and yet they’re resolved to winning the Boston Marathon. If nothing else, you’ll benefit from the ability to step outside of yourself, rationalize, and strategize for how you would address certain life challenges.
It's the purest form of escapism. Think about it; while author’s certainly do their best to draw you in with colorful alliteration, metaphor, and a thesaurus of adjectives, the reader still has a lot of heavy lifting to do when it comes to developing a mental picture of the story. Movies, TV, and theatre do that for you with elaborate costuming and production design. Not to mention, casting. There are times where a casting choice seems perfect, like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Margot Robbie as Barbie. There are other times where the actor chosen doesn’t quite align with our perceptions of the character. We all have our own unique imagination!  As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh the things you can think up, if only you try.”
It expands your knowledge. As I said a few paragraphs back, no matter what you decide to read, you’re guaranteed to learn something. Characters like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Dr. Thorndyke, and Miss Marple use their wide-ranging knowledge, cunning wit, and unparalleled powers of observation to piece together seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Along the way, you too will learn to look for certain patterns, notice intentional misdirection, and formulate well-reasoned conclusions. Or you could be reading Vogue, where I’m sure you’ll learn… something.
What are you waiting for? Get a library card. Schedule a trip to Barnes and Noble. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like the book. So, what! It’s not the end of the world. Care to guess how many books I’ve attempted to read over the years only to toss it in the “Half Price Books resell box” after less than an hour? Just because Hamlet wasn’t your style doesn’t mean you won’t love Twilight. No judgement here!