Reading and its place in today’s world

Ask any average teenager or college going student whether or not they consider reading books as an integral part of their life and the most common responses seem to be either in the form of a total disregard for the entire act of reading or a resounding YES. But it’s not difficult to understand that the reading they’re referring to is limited to the books related only to their academic curriculum.

From the Beginning to Now

Scientists all over the world argue that it is the ability to read and write that has made humanity come forward leaps and bounds ahead of other animals. Reading and writing has been an integral part of Humanity and its history since the days of the Rosetta stone all the way to the present day. For the people of the earliest civilisations, writing, in the form of signs and symbols allowed us to record every tiny detail of our life for future generations and inculcating the skill of deciphering these signs i.e. “reading” ensured that future generations would in fact be able to decode these abnormal scribbles on stones and manuscripts and learn about our culture, our beliefs, our lessons but most importantly future generations would know that we were there. Why then is the concept of reading and writing not taken seriously anymore? A lot of it has got to do with the fact that Children now more than ever have lots of things to do, from watching Television to being on their smartphones all the damn time, very few young people are now being exposed to books and the pleasures that can be derived from them. That is not to say that they aren’t reading; they are. They’re exposed to more written material than ever in the form of quotes, memes, subtitles, excerpts, articles, part of articles from everywhere but what seems to be the problem now is they are reading fewer books. And that is a big problem. You see, reading a book is very much different from reading.

The Benefits

When you’re reading a book, you are getting a lot from it unconsciously:

  • lots of good vocabulary

  • complex sentence structures

  • comprehension

  • logical reasoning

  • the ability to focus

  • it relaxes you, reduces stress

  • gives you an ability to literally be in another person’s head all the time thereby making you more empathetic

The Research

Using MRI scans, researchers have identified that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability develops, those networks also get stronger and more erudite. In one study conducted in 2013, researchers used functional MRI scans to measure the effect of reading a novel on the brain. As tension built in the story, more and more areas of the brain lit up with activity. Research has also shown that people who read literary fiction show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. It has also been found that students who read books frequently, beginning at a young age, progressively develop hefty vocabularies. And vocabulary size can affect many areas of your life, from scores on tests to college admissions and job opportunities. In 2009, a group of researchers measured the effects of yoga, humour, and reading on the stress levels of students. The study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humour did.

It’s not to say that all of the things mentioned above couldn’t have been gathered or aren’t being gathered from elsewhere by children but reading books reinforces these things and makes it a near certainty. But for readers it is very hard to explain to others about the benefits of reading or how much it helps them because they usually don’t know how to prove it. In a data driven world, everyone believes that claims unsupported with statistics basically hold no meaning. However, ask any lifetime reader about how reading literature has affected them and their lives and you won’t hear the end of it; literature and its effects on its readers are immeasurable.

The Point of it all

With all the benefits of reading and its essentiality declared loud and clear what I’d like to urge all the readers of this article to do is go pick up a book and try to read it. Start with something that you know will be the easiest for you to get into and will allow you to stay focused on for at least a week. Start with genres that you know you love when it comes to watching a movie, for some of you it could be romance, for some others it could be a mystery or a thriller. It could be the trashiest book from a critical point of view but that shouldn’t matter to you because you aren’t trying to read the best book out there, you’re just trying to get into reading. It doesn’t matter with what you start your journey into this beautiful habit called reading. Just start.

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