Quick Reads: Why We Should All Read More
Reading is something different from playing a computer game or watching TV. It’s relaxing, but it’s also not a passive activity. Your mind’s eye is working when you read so that you can see what is being described, and how people are talking and feeling. A great book makes you feel as if you’ve made a new friend who understands all kinds of things about you, maybe even things you didn’t know you thought or felt. Of course, you have to live your own life – but that life is richer and more interesting the more you read.
People who don’t read are not stupid, but too often they have been made to feel that way. I think that is because they haven’t discovered reading, and the language of feelings it gives you. Reading is above all about understanding feelings. As soon as you read confidently you start to think what it is like to be somebody who is not you – and that helps with everything, from not making so many mistakes to being able to enjoy a better life.
I can only comment on why reading has helped me over the years. It has helped to fuel my imagination and to offer me experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I have travelled to every continent without leaving my home and learned of many other cultures, customs and beliefs. Reading has helped my understanding of the English language, improved my grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Primarily reading has offered me many hours of enjoyment, learning and relaxation.
Books can entertain you and teach you something new, they can take you to other places – real and imagined. You can travel through time. You can see the world from a completely fresh perspective. But you can get all these things from TV, theatre, film. What books give you – uniquely – is the chance to be part of the creation. Books are a collaboration between the writer and the reader. The words are on the page, but so much of what’s happening is in your head. Your imagination is the magic ingredient. <
In a world where so much of our entertainment is served up to us visually (films, TV shows, computer games etc) reading is one of the few things that allows us to use our imagination. When we reading we're not watching a character in peril or in love we ARE that character. Through reading we can experience other lives, other worlds, danger, romance, horror, magic and the future. We can escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life and lose ourselves in captivating and gripping stories. Through reading we become more empathetic, more imaginative and, I believe, happier, relaxed and more content.
There are so many positive benefits to reading, whether for education or for pleasure. Employment prospects are greatly enhanced when you can read and write to a high standard, and there are few jobs that do not require you to be literate. Working aside, being able to read - and to a level that enables you to digest what is being said, and to form an opinion on it - stimulates the mind, improves conversation and social skills, and increases self-esteem, confidence and mental well-being.
Reading is the ultimate multi-tasking activity. A story read for pleasure is improving our vocabulary, our general knowledge, our grammar, and thus enhancing all the benefits of ‘educational’ reading. At the same time it is making us laugh, or cry; it is taking us to far away places, or reminding us of home; it is thrilling us, romancing us, exciting us.
Above all, reading makes us think. A regular reader is a regular thinker. And the world needs more thinkers.
A world without reading is a world that has lost its way! Books, fact and fiction alike, are an entrée into a myriad of different worlds and experiences. They can ignite the imagination; help us to understand our own lives, the lives of others and the world around us. They can transport you from your own corner of the world and put you in the shoes of people whom you’ve never met and may never meet. They do away with boundaries, frontiers and limitations and can take you anywhere. An - we should never forget this - even if it’s just a question of being flat out entertained, books can do it every time.
Books are wonderful things. There’s nothing you can’t learn, can’t explore, can’t experience via books. Fiction is more immersive than any film. Novels last longer and echo more. And if you want to learn something – whether on a practical subject, or something that’s just for fun, like history or biography – then books will always give you the best, truest, fullest answer available anywhere. I always, as a boy, wanted to be a writer and now that I am one, I’ve never wanted to be anything else. Happy reading – and long may the habit last!
Reading is an act of communication, a transfer of knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading fiction or biography or even the news and gossip columns, by the simple act of reading you are accessing some of the thoughts of the person who has written those words. In a small way, you are putting yourself in their head, seeing the world through their eyes. The more eyes you can see the world through, the larger it becomes. The more diverse thoughts and words you read, the less likely you are to react to them with surprise or fear. To read is to open yourself up to ideas and broaden your horizons.<
Life is very demanding these days – fast-paced, super-charged, full of different messages. We still rely on writing to communicate, even if it’s on the internet or a text message rather than a hand-written letter. But functional reading is one thing – reading for pleasure is another. It’s a way to escape stress rather than absorbing more of it – a risk-free way to travel, to experience other lives and think about things that otherwise might never have occurred to us. People are stressed out and lonely but reading books can solve both of those issues. The rise of book clubs means that reading has become a great way to meet people as well as a personal pleasure. Reading a book is a great way to learn more about something that interests you, too.
I hate reading being chalked up as something like getting your five a day, or something you "ought" to do. Read if you want to; I would say because it takes you somewhere else, brings you joy, shows you you're not alone in this world; makes you laugh and cry.
Or as my son said, after he discovered Harry Potter: Mum! It's not like watching something! It's like being in something!
Reading tells us about the world and in doing so, it tells us about ourselves. We discover how different we are from other people and, crucially, how alike. Reading improves our minds; it gives us wit and strengthens our imaginations. It builds self-confidence and understanding, but more importantly…much more importantly reading is FUN. Yes, we have movies and computer games and endless social media to take up our time, but those are communal activities. The experiences are more or less the same for everyone. When you read a book, the pictures in your head are yours and yours alone. Human beings are hard-wired to look for story, and when you lose yourself in a good one, you will find so much.
The simple answer is, because it's brilliant. Because opening a book is a portal to another world, seeing and experiencing things you might never otherwise encounter. And the more you read, the more you think, hope, dream, aspire and believe the more that you are opening up to a world of infinite possibilities. Reading is about more than just enjoying a good story, it's about unlocking the potential within a person's mind, imagination and intellect. People who read books rule the world.
One in six adults of working age in the UK finds reading difficult and may never pick up a book, whilst one in three does not read for pleasure. Established in 2006 and sponsored by Galaxy®, The Reading Agency's Quick Reads Initiative aims to tackle this by creating quality adult books designed for those who are less confident in their reading skills. Written by well-known authors and specially created to be shorter and easier to tackle, they’re also perfect for people who want a light, easy read to pick up for their commute or to fit into a busy day. This year's six new books are available for just £1 from Wednesday 2nd February.
Photos of Amanda Craig, Jenny Colgan and Mark Billingham (c) Charlie Hopkinson