Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was read. It started with Cam Jansen mysteries in second grade, then the Harry Potter series when I got a bit older and after that, onto basically any young adult novel I could find. Since then, my reading material has expanded to include classic novels, fun beach reads, endless New York Times articles, sociological theory, travel essays, editorials about politics, mental health, feminism and more. Every day I find myself reading something new, even if that’s just a status on Facebook or a piece of advice about stress reduction.
Reading can be time-consuming, especially if you find yourself staring down a 400-page novel or one of the lengthy scholarly articles I’ve been reading for my thesis. Many of us are incredibly busy, with other schoolwork, jobs, family commitments, athletics, service work, other interests and attempting to get enough sleep in between it all. So I totally understand the “I don’t have time to read” perspective.
It’s easy to let free reading take a backseat. I do it often. But lately, I’ve tried to prioritize it more, because I realized it makes me feel better and more productive to reflect on at least one new thing that I read about that day. Essentially, it just makes me happy.
For some, reading doesn’t bring about as much joy as it does for me. They may have a more technical mind, one that deals better with numbers and tangible work. They may prefer other forms of media, such as film, music or art, for a whole host of reasons. Reading may be difficult for others, whether that’s due to a learning disability or difficulty concentrating. I’ve had a variety of friends and family members experience these various issues, but I still think incorporating some reading – even if it’s just ten minutes a day – can have a huge impact on a person.
I believe that reading has exposed me to different perspectives. There are other ways to get people’s stories, too, but I think reading is one of the most power avenues to understanding how another person thinks or feels, because they have to take the time to really process their thoughts and capture them in words. Many people are shy or hesitant to divulge personal stories, but I’ve noticed that we may be more likely to share thoughts when words don’t have to be spoken aloud. Writing is also a historically lasting form of expression, and I think that in itself shows its value.
Of course, all of these benefits hinge on what many of us, especially in a university setting, take for granted: the ability to read. As a Pi Beta Phi woman, I’ve had the following (frightening) fact seared into my mind: one in four children in the U.S. grow up unable to read. A study put out by the U.S. Department of Education in 2002 reported that 21-23 percent of the U.S. adult population demonstrated at or below Level 1 reading proficiency, out of 5 levels of proficiency that could be reached, and The Huffington Post reported in 2013 that those rates had not changed significantly throughout the past decade.
Reading helps a person grow, so we should be encouraging and embracing it. We can gain new knowledge, further hone our critical thinking skills and hear stories that are different from our own. Since our experiences in life are so different from others’, based on an endless amount of factors, it is impossible to experience first-hand so much of what other humans face.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore those stories because they’re not directly relevant to us. I believe that can actually be incredibly dangerous, because it creates egocentric, close-minded attitudes about the self and others. Reading exposes us to these new stories and ideas, whether they’re uplifting, frightening or confusing, but that is all to our benefit. We should keep reading, even when it feels like we have so many other things to do.