I was the kid that read a lot of books. My sister was like that too, actually, to the point that my mum would shake her head and groan to her friends, “Jesus, they never stop reading those damn books.” Let me make something clear: despite their occasional frustration, my parents have always been supporters of my reading addiction — I can’t imagine how much they’ve spent on books in the past 19 years of my life — but they would tend to get annoyed when I’d wander down the stairs with my nose buried in a book. In our household books were dangerous. Get me a new book and it was guaranteed that I’d be late for school that day. Homework fell to the wayside, dinner became insignificant — I would read while walking down the street and while crossing the road, unaware of the cars and buses functioning around me. Everything took 10 times as long when I was in the thick of the book; that’s how integral it was to my being. I had to get to the end of the chapter. I had to know what was going to happen next. I had to finish it. I have never been able to leave a series uncompleted, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed it. So yes, the argument could be made that I read a little too much as a kid.
But I’m going to have to disagree.
Reading for fun isn’t high on the list of priorities for most, and this is understandable. It can be hard to justify sitting down to read Pride & Prejudice when you have two essays to write, three hours of math homework and multiple other responsibilities piling up. Many of us work or take over 16 units — I know people that don’t find the time to sleep, let alone browse the shelves of a bookstore twenty minutes away. And then there’s the cost aspect (why buy a book when you can buy a burrito?). In short, it’s hard to read, but I’m here to argue that we should all find the time.
Let’s talk a bit about the benefits of reading because at this point you might be muttering “What’s the point of making time?” Stop shaking your head at the computer — there are lots of reasons to make reading a priority.
1) Stressed? Pick up a book! I know it’s tempting to lie in bed and feel sorry for yourself, or to switch on the newest episode of “Modern Family,” but believe me: throwing yourself into a fictional world is a far better escape than that pile of candy sitting on the corner of your desk.
2) It does really cool stuff to your brain. I’m not kidding, reading stories — especially those with strong narrative arcs — heightens connectivity in the parts of your brain responsible for language comprehension as well as those associated with sensations and movement. Basically, reading makes you a superhuman. Not to mention recent studies have shown that those who read regularly are up to two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
3) Vocabulary. Fairly self-explanatory, but your vocabulary is bound to improve if you expose it to the bountiful world of fiction. Non-fiction, even. Pick your poison.
4) Reading makes you a nicer person. Studies have shown that reading strengthens your empathetic potential — meaning you’re more likely to be understanding when your mum promises to send you oatmeal raisin cookies and then goes two weeks without explaining why she failed to. No bitterness will linger, I promise. One study performed even showed that children reading Harry Potter showed increased tolerance towards stigmatized groups. (Note: this result only proved true for the children that specifically identified with Harry, as opposed to Voldemort. If your child starts saying that they really “feel for old Voldie,” it may be time to switch up the reading material.)
5) You’ll become a more interesting individual. This last point may be a little biased, but I really believe that reading a variety of books can help you become a more intellectually aware and intriguing human being. How can you resist talking to someone who sheepishly admits they have all the Harry Potter books lined up on their shelves? They’re probably a very tolerant person.
So, in conclusion, reading improves just about every facet of your life. If everyone read every day we would probably live in a perfect, healthy, tolerant society full of remarkable individuals with incredibly heightened connectivity in their brain. Or something close to that. I can’t think of a single way in which reading could have a negative impact on your life — so next time you’re considering a Netflix marathon, guilt yourself into reading a new book. I promise you won’t regret it.
If this article has inspired you to read more but you aren’t sure where to start, I would recommend sitting down for half an hour and making a reading list for yourself. Research your favorite authors, your favorite authors’ favorite authors and try to include a few books of “literary value” (as pretentious as it sounds I guarantee you will one day be grateful you suffered through The Sound and the Fury). This flowchart is also a great resource, and goodreads has plenty of lists for all genres. Happy hunting!
Alyssa Evans is still waiting on those oatmeal raisin cookies, mom!