On the Importance of Reading for Life – Rosie

We’re only human (and humans that have been on this planet for a relatively short period of time, at that…) There’s no way any one of us could know everything there is to know out there.

I know it can be overwhelming to think about how much there is in this universe that remains still unknown to the human race—and I’ve got to wonder if that doesn’t excite you at all.

If you feel some sense of wonder about what humanity might still discover, you should also feel that way about the knowledge you personally have yet to master. No matter who you are, there is still so much more you can explore, learn about, and test out—and one of the best ways to do that is through reading.

Sadly, there seems to be a downward trend in reading across the American population. A Gallup poll from 1978 found that 48% of Americans had read 11 or more books in the past year, and 13% reported reading more than 50 books. A similar poll by Pew in 2014 found that only 28% of Americans had read 11 books. What’s more troubling is that nearly a quarter of Americans reported that they hadn’t read a single book over the course of the year—whether in print, or on their kindle, or even as an audio-book. (The Atlantic).


Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. Sources: Pew 2014, Pew 2012, and Gallup Retrieved from: The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/



Why the *!#% does it seem like we’ve all but given up on the pursuit of knowledge?

One obvious reason might be all the quick reading we do online day-in and day-out, which could satisfy our thirst for intellectual stimulation without the need to open up a heavy book. However, I think there might be a deeper root cause of this declining interest in reading.

To decide NOT to read in your free time, either out of self-inquiry or sheer curiosity, and to be content with that decision is possibly one of the most arrogant things you can do. It’s the equivalent of saying “I know about everything out there that’s important; I’ve gathered all the relevant facts; I’ve come to the right conclusions on all the lingering debates; and nothing anyone else might have to offer could be of any value to my life.”

I know people who openly admit they don’t like reading books. They say they’re boring, even as I watch them play Angry Birds for an hour straight IN FRONT OF A TELEVISION THAT IS ON.  I also know people who say they don’t have time to read, even while displaying the same sorts of behaviors. Few people of my age would truly have no time to read for pleasure, unless they worked two jobs to pay their way through school and were also heavily involved in extracurriculars. Instead, it’s a matter of deciding not to make time for this act of inquiry.

This stems from a place of complacency—that feeling that everything is fine, I’ve done enough, and all I want to do is relax. Relaxation in your downtime is important, for sure, but why are we routinely prioritizing “Netflix and chill” over “Curl up with a book and chill?” It seems to be a dysfunctional relationship with time—and an unhealthy distinction between work and play—that will follow us throughout the rest of our lives if we don’t take the time to seriously investigate our aversion to reading endeavors.

We like snippits of reading. We like Reddit, and predigested news, from loud commentators or in flashy mash-up videos on our news feed. It seems like we like whatever’s “easy,” to pair nicely with all the hard work we have to do for classes. Is this healthy? What about when we enter the workplace? If we become too habituated to the work-until-work-is-over-then-veg-out routine, we may continue this reluctance to read into adulthood.

Why is that a big deal????

It’s a big deal because, even though we might like to think so, we aren’t always right. Because there’s a lot more to learn. Because we can do better at empathy, and the starting point for building this vital skill is genuinely listening to what other people find important enough to say. Because there are so many problems we collectively face as a species that might have a better chance at being solved if our thoughts were in conversation with each other a little more often . . if we gave the perspectives of others the time of day. . . if we took time out of our day to pour over them, consider them, evaluate them, and build upon them. We could be so much more, both alone and together, if we were more willing to welcome challenging ideas–challenging, perhaps, but no more threatening than simples words on a page.

Let’s start facing them more often.

by Rosie Lynch

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2 thoughts on “On the Importance of Reading for Life – Rosie”

  1. I love the beginnings of this conversation, but I am skeptical of the connection between the idea of Americans are reading less, therefore we have LOST the pursuit of knowledge and urge to discover our world.

    The mediums to which we can access knowledge and information have changed into something rapid, expansive, and even overwhelming. Sure we might not read as many books collectively as we did forty years ago, but that does not mean that we are intellectually stagnant. To me, it means that our understanding of knowledge and our ability to connect with material and ideas has become dynamic and unrestricted by the physical access to print media.

    Sure there are a plethora of downsides to the integration of technology into our lives, but the issue is by no means black or white. Hope to keep this conversation going!

    1. Rusty,

      I really appreciate the important issues you are raising with my initial argument. I should probably retract my assertion that reading is “one of the best ways” to explore, learn about, and test out our ideas about the world. There are many, many ways to examine life and our relationship to other fixtures in it, and forms of experiential learning are likely much more powerful means of learning and discovery. However, I think reading–or the absorption of consideration of knowledge produced by someone else (to have a definition more inclusive to online texts, audio-texts, and even films) is still an important and relatively safe means of discovery for the potential it offers in terms of improved understanding. By safe, I mean it establishes a kind of laboratory for thought experimentation and emotional exploration within one’s private inner-world in the dialogue it permits between the reader, characters and/or author.

      I suppose what is especially troubling for me about the decline of book-reading and what causes me to hold the assumption that it’s tied to a decreased urge for discovery is that much of what has replaced print media is online media which “shows up” more often than it is sought out. With platforms like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and even email, information is thrust at readers and they decide whether or not they will give that information their attention based on apparent interest level, but that decision is almost instantaneous, and seemingly inconsequential. Then as you said, it overwhelms, because of sheer volume and the rapidity with which someone can read about many different things. Readers tire out and will now be less likely to exert the effort required to seek out long-form works on a topic and explore it in greater depth, with more information and diversions competing for their attention.

      What do you find to be a healthy balance between consuming print and digital media in your personal life? Do you experience any differences in impact based on the mode of your consumption of these?


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