Read. Read. Read. It’s advice given ad infinitum to children from preschool all the way through high school. There are well documented reasons that back up this recommendation, some of which I mention below. But now that summer is upon us, it’s a great opportunity to set aside some time each day – say 15-20 minutes – to do some old-fashioned reading of an actual book.
Why? Well, here are just a few reasons:
Among other characteristics, the brain is a muscle that, like others, needs exercise to stay in shape. Regular book reading helps build and strengthen our brain, in particular our cognitive skills and ability to focus. And speaking of concentration . . . reading long-form texts such as in a novel or nonfiction helps develop critical thinking skills in ways that scrolling through social media will not. If you read often, you’ll naturally get better at it.
Reading also helps foster empathy. In getting fully engrossed in a story, one can’t help but join the world of a character (or more) and see it through their eyes. You might identify with him or her or feel that you’re the polar opposite of them. Either way, you begin to understand, share, or, at least, consider the feelings and perspectives of this individual, regardless of whether they’re real or imaginary. And that naturally evolves into feeling a sense of empathy for their lived experience, whether it’s painful, joyful, or some of both.
A third equally important reason to read is to broaden your horizons beyond your own home and community. Reading both fiction and non-fiction can bring you to different places and cultures around the world, either in the past or present, and to the people who inhabit them. Imagine experiencing France during the German occupation in WWII through the vastly different lives of Vianne and Isabelle in Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. Or accompanying Tara Westover through a childhood and adolescence that defies belief in her memoir, Educated. One can’t help emerging from these works somewhat changed and with a new point of view.
C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” In other words, it is through regular reading that we come to appreciate our common humanity. Summer is a wonderful time to walk in someone else’s shoes and at the same time come to know something about yourself. Make the most of your free time, and good reading!