Podcasts and YouTube may quite possibly surpass the act of reading, but books were the technology of an era long residing in the dried up pages of nostalgia. Suffice to say, the consumption of content has moved on from reading words printed on dead trees to blogs, podcasts, YouTube and Netflix. It’s not all bad, though; but reading gives the same pleasure as a croissant bursting with Nutella and strawberries with the assurance of a no insulin response. Why I read is my personal attempt at convincing you to read and explain why I find this a seriously rewarding past time.
Just like a Nutella-filled croissant, reading a book offers a sense of warmth in stringing words together to form feelings. It’s magical and very real at the same time. The following assertion is true — We exist because of stories and are experts in generating tales that have created religions, philosophies and political movements.
But, in my case, reading has been an effort to pack a myriad of experiences into what is expected to be a short life. We live in a world where extroversion is adulated and introversion is despised. Non-readers won’t understand the happiness that lies within when you’re sipping a gin and tonic; all the while inviting your eyes to see those cursive fonts that form those magical words, which thread together a story that leads to rivulets of goosebumps on your back.
What is the act of reading but an exercise in distraction? A hobby it may be, but it is certainly one which is enjoyable. Anyone who is Lankan, and who grew up in the 80s and 90s would know of the tumultuous times that this island nation went through. Life under the LTTE and JVP were nothing like how a decent life should be. This was a time where access to a telephone or television was a luxury. A smartphone, laptop or Kindle would’ve been straight out of the pages of a science fiction novella that resided in the book shelves at The British Council.
Speaking of The British Council, this was the one solace that existed for the denizens of Colombo. You see, there was nothing else to do in Colombo during that period except to dodge bullets and bombs while focusing on your education in the hopes of migrating to greener pastures. Oh, how things have changed. For the record, I still escape; usually to worlds and plots concocted by Stephen King and Agatha Christie.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Instead it made the cat smarter. Books are education. Consider Rene Descartes during the 17th century who offered the theory that only humans feel, and that animals are mere automatons. This is why doctors used to dissect live dogs while placing no mind to their screams.
Humans are curious by nature, and this leads to progress. Descartes was a participant of some inhumane activity, but it was education and a progressive mindset plus a change in beliefs that led to a change in how we view other species today. While curiosity has led to the concept of imagination being stretched, it has also served to offer a sense of progress.
I will offer you another example in the form of Yuval Noah Harrari. He has been central to the change in the global mindset when it came to humanity’s reliance on religion. The latter had done more harm than good, but religion certainly did have its place. But the shift is happening now; people are trusting science more. The best instance of this is when science told all churches and mosques to stop religious activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And the vast majority of the human race believed science.
The entertainment value of books are unparalleled. It’s the cheapest way to travel and the cheapest way to experience brand new feelings. There’s a reason why the written word will always surpass the pixel.
Netflix may be able to showcase one point of view, but I rather read a book and let my brain expand on the intricacies of plot, tone and character. Books help expand your mind and the universe within yourself. What is life if not for a vibrant and colorful imagination. Today and all the intuitive products we use is an idea that has been dreamt up and created thanks to a creative imagination.
Reading the right books can help you expand your perception of the world, and assist you in changing your mindset. What reading does is help you learn the skills that make you relevant. In an era where technology is as pervasive as sugar, it is mandatory to always stay relevant. Consider all the manuals that I used to read on WordPerfect back in the 80s — while it still exists it might as well be redundant.
If there’s one book that has helped me stay relevant in 2020, it would be — 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It is a must read for those of us who are in our 40s and are still trying to be relevant. It is a must read for anyone; and will offer a great lesson for any person to always keep learning. Don’t be a Kodak, be an Apple instead. You see, to stop learning is to die.
Reading books is living experiences. The suave lines in poetry and literature hints at how people behave. It’s this familiarity of human nature via books that led me to be rather unsurprised by Colombo; unsurprised by how Colombo society is okay with someone stealing someone else’s husband or wife, but bad table manners is a serious faux pas.
Reading helps you develop empathy. We all know this is something that is seriously lacking in the world today. Philosophy and knowledge have the answers that we crave. One huge influence in my life has been the observations made by Arthur Schopenhauer; his quote — compassion is the basis of morality — is a fantastic indication of how man should live hand in hand in peace and harmony.
I Read Classics
Simply because classics offer an exceptional view of human nature. All these tales by Dickens and Elliot gives you an opportunity to understand the nuances and intricacies of the human heart.
Consider the tale of Silas Marner: a man who loves the material world, but reluctantly desires that all-important human connection. It is still very relevant today. Capitalism is the God we serve at the expense of real human relationships. This might give an explanation to the recent rise in loneliness, suicide and depression.
The Biggest Lesson That Reading Affords You…
… is discipline and patience. Reading lends these two skills to your life. Your impatience is stilled as is your mind. How else are you supposed to soak up the words and travel a literary route? I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. Books help us live through the people in them. Social media helps us compare ourselves to others. Interestingly, like in other rewards, both learning and cognitive areas play a significant part in the food reward. Who needs comfort food when there’s an increase in the dopamine response from the human amygdala whenever one indulges in cognitive tasks.
It’s understood and accepted that reading and writing can help stave off cognitive decline. As shown in previous paragraphs reading helps keep you relevant and makes you empathetic. As a former literary student and, more recently, a lifestyle journalist, the very act of reading helped me increase my vocabulary and add value to the content I put out. Reading is bliss; and it quite possibly might be the solution to all our problems and worries. Either way maybe less conversation is a better way to get started on the journey of reading the written word.