Why We Read
Updated: Jul 12
As a kid, I would get bored during the school holidays. I used to wander the house, pick up a toy before dropping it again, play a single note on the piano and call it practice, whine and plead for anything to get me through a day of nothingness.
Without fail, Mum and Dad would reply: 'Why don't you read a book?'
Reading is fun. It's a good time. If you're here reading a blog called 'Bookish Nooks', then you know that already and don't need me to persuade you.
But why should we read? Why did our parents and teachers fixate on words so much? I did some digging to work it out.
According to Pearson, there is overwhelming evidence that children who read every day perform more successfully in reading tests, develop broader vocabularies, better increase their general knowledge and also demonstrate a greater understanding of other cultures. These factors lead to more confident expression and development overall.
Reading for fun clearly makes a big impact on children's educational experience; there's a visible link between enjoying literature as a kid and performing academically and expressively at school.
Empathy & Communication
'I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.'
– Neil Gaiman
In an annual lecture at The Reading Agency, Nail Gaiman spoke about the future of reading and the importance of libraries. He posited that the development of empathy is one of the main benefits of reading. Simply living in the shoes of another person, even if the shoes are fictional, can broaden your imagination and allow you to understand lived experiences through the lens of another perspective.
This is obviously incredibly important in a beautifully diverse society such as Australia's: each difference should be celebrated and embraced. Books might begin to teach us how to do this respectfully.
Neil Gaiman also framed the concept of escapism as a predominantly positive thing. Often we're told to raise our heads from the page and live a little. But escapism can be used as a tool for change: if we raise our heads and feel discontent with our situation (or even the world at large), we are given the motivation and the inclination to improve it.
Books can tell us how to meet challenges head-on and make a difference. Anyone that has ever impacted the world began by imagining change before acting on it.
'Simply being in the company of others, and soaking in their opinions, can be inspiring.'
– Evelyn Lewin, The Age
Reading is often seen as a solitary experience; curling up with your book, blanket and tea on a rainy afternoon is perceived as precious time alone. But according to Lewin, there are actually exciting social benefits to reading that often go unappreciated. Gathering with like-minded individuals over wine while discussing shared interests may become a meaningful way to communicate and connect with others, forming more powerful relationships and improving out mental health.
Talking about books with other people can provide a much-needed break from the stresses of life, according to clinical psychologist Caitlin Sopp. Sharing your thoughts in a group environment can also boost your confidence and allow for individual expression.
These group environments can be in person (at the pub or on the couch) or online (through Instagram, Book Blogs, BookTube and BookTok). There are so many ways to talk about books and make new connections, all of which contribute to our development, health and happiness.
'The robustness of our findings suggest that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.'
– Bavishi, Slade and Levy
Books and reading have even been associated with longevity in a study by Bavishi, Slade and Levy. Apparently, reading a chapter a day can provide you with a significant survival advantage: the research even states that a 20% reduction in mortality was recorded for those who read books, compared with those who did not read books. Intense, right?
According to the study, there are two major cognitive processes that are linked to survival.
This slow, immersive process acts as a form of mindfulness. When you read, you have to switch off from the world around you to avoid distraction and enhance concentration. Cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections, applies ideas to the world outside the book and asks questions. In other words, the reader just reads really, really attentively.
Books can promote greater levels of social awareness and emotional intelligence. As we read, we learn to study experiences outside of our own perceptions; this increases our ability to recognise signals from other people and assess potential dangers of communicative threats. Wild, huh?
Don't let me convince you though – here's a quick video about the neurological benefits to reading from Jack Close.
This research gives me a whole new excuse for procrastination-reading. I'm not sure that reading while I cross the road would uphold the 'survival' argument thought... thoughts?
What other benefits of reading can you think of? Please let me know in the comments if I've missed any!
Thanks a bunch for reading with me.