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I’ll be honest. It’s in my own self-interest to say that reading is important. I am the author of a book blog, after all.
But I believe—passionately—that reading is more than your average pastime. Much more.
Here’s why I think that readers, people like you and me, are critical to preserving civilization—and helping it flourish.
Reading teaches you how (not what) to think
In How to Read a Book (yes, that’s the actual title) Mortimer J. Adler frets over newfangled modes of mass communication, such as radio and magazines. He worries about how they “package” intellectual positions with the goal of helping Average Joe make up his mind with minimum difficulty and effort. But, Adler asserts, Joe doesn’t make up his mind at all.
“Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and ‘plays back’ the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.”
Doesn’t this sound frighteningly familiar? When was the last time you had an original thought of your own? Something that wasn’t fed to you by social media or the news? It’s a sobering question for me, no doubt.
But reading great books is the gateway to (real) free thinking.
Reading teaches you to reflect before you react
How different would social media be if people thought for a minute before they reacted to something online?
Tweets and bite-sized videos make short, snappy statements. If we trust the source, then we take the statement as fact. We don’t mull it over for a few days. We don’t take time to reflect on it and form our own individual viewpoints. We immediately react by tapping a button—we don’t even have to put our feelings into words—hello, emojis.
Tony Reinke says, “The temptation is to react, not to ponder. I am quick to Tweet and slow to think. I am quick to Google and slow to ponder.”
As we mature as readers, we tend to choose challenging books that don’t lend themselves to simple “likes” or “dislikes.” They demand we switch on our brain and puzzle it out. And this is good—for us and the world at large.
Reading forms your character, cultivates virtue, and encourages empathy
So often, I find myself reading to get information. I need to KNOW something. But, more than informing my mind, reading forms my character.
Tell a teenage girl, “Don’t flirt with boys,” and you’ve succeeded in informing her of something you believe to be true. But show her Lydia Bennet in all her foolishness, tell her Lydia’s story, how it begins and how it ends, and you may succeed in a far greater way.
Karen Swallow Prior says it in the fewest possible words: “Literary characters have a lot to teach us about character.”
Reading allows us to see life through another’s eyes, exposes us to things beyond the scope of our own experience, and enlarges our view of humanity.
Reading forces you to slow down and savor
I confess, I sometimes plow through a book brainlessly, just trying to get through. But often, especially when I’m reading something truly great, I slow down and linger over the language, bask in the storytelling, and hope it won’t end too soon.
There’s enough “rush, rush, hurry” in my life. Reading, for me, is an opportunity to stop scurrying and pursue peace.
Experienced readers know that it’s not a race to read the most and the fastest. It’s about hopping off the hamster wheel, stepping into the fresh air, and receiving the gift.
“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities. For a Christian, they can be God-glorifying, a gift from God to the human race to be accepted with zest.”Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective
True readers are free thinkers.
They reflect before they react.
They cultivate character, virtue, and empathy by reading widely and well.
They know how to slow down and enjoy.
The world needs more readers!
I, for one, am grateful to be in company with so many, with you.
Be where the readers are
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