The Value Of Reading

I have been an avid reader of words for forever it seems.  I read!  For 6 decades this was how I defined myself.  Then I also became a writer of words. I stopped defining myself years ago, but words on a printed page (I do e-books now also) are still the great love and joy of my life.

Over the past few months I have followed a few discussions in cyber space about the merits of reading.  Many of the readers commenting said they could not understand how people can’t or won’t read.  Well I find it difficult to understand also, I know the loneliness of not having books to read, however I am well aware I am not everyone.  Some of the comments suggested that not wishing to read somehow indicates a lower intelligence, less learning and a lower imaginative life.  That somehow reading books indicates the contrary.  On these last points I disagree.

I haven’t, I admit, given much thought before to the question. Some of my friends read a great deal, some don’t – it is just so.  I know it would be a clever person indeed to decide which the reader was and which not by the general tone of their conversation.

Surely nowadays there is not the necessity to read to keep up to date with life. As to whether there is more intelligence gained from reading, or whether love of reading is caused by greater intelligence, these are ideas and thoughts which wipe out the collective intelligence of a great part of the globe and are I feel  condescending.

One of the recurring comments in the discussions was that people choosing not to read, (on the whole the conversations were about fiction books) would be slumped in front of TV screens receiving stories, knowledge passively.  Not engaged as a reader is.  Surely not?  Is a drama – grand or soap – on the screen not as engaging for the viewer as the written word for the reader?  Do viewers not cry, yell and cheer? Maybe throw things – I don’t know.

Reading is a relatively new skill in our history.  Most of our ‘imaginative’ storytelling was a listening, watching, communal experience, from way back. Around a fire or in a theatre, now on the ‘box’ it is how millions have had and will have their imaginations fired.

Passive? No, no, observe the child being ‘read to’, consider the face, the movements, excitement, dread, laughter. Engaged or what? Watch any theatre audience, maybe they sit, so do readers, but they are engaged with others in a way us book-a-holics are not.  We are wrapped in an isolated world of our own.

Does it matter that people do not wish to read books; it matters of course in our society that they can read. Not to understand the written word can be a handicap in many mundane ways, understanding instructions, filling in forms and having a choice.  The choice of whether to read a novel or not. Reading for knowledge? Well yes, if one enjoys the experience, but such a great deal of our world is visual and aural and has always been, we can discover in other ways.

One of the best informed men I ever met, especially on fungi, Shakespeare and the great British poets was a ‘lowly’ porter back in the 70s who could barely sign his name.  We had endlessly fascinating discussions – I was fresh from English Lit. A level exams and knew it all. Well maybe not!!  All over the world, on my travels, I met wise and intelligent people who had never been taught to read but who had absorbed knowledge and information like sponges.

Is ‘reading’ a story more worthy than ‘watching’ a drama on TV or at the theatre? Story telling whether from between the pages of a book or as a community experience is where the extraordinary can be placed into perspective, a name given to  untold fears and anxieties – where we can wrap a protective cocoon against LIFE and all its uncertainties.  Which is why it is that books and indeed every form of storytelling disappoint, even anger, when the ending is not at least hopeful, if it can’t be happy.  A bad ending spoils the illusion that we can control life events

Is a novel an extra bonus in life, for some of us, a choice we relish? Or is there something about pinning words to paper and encasing it in a cabinet of cardboard that makes a book special – makes the story within a more worthwhile product than the looser form on our screens, on our stages? Or is it indeed merely another way to escape?

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2 thoughts on “The Value Of Reading

  1. alberta says:

    Thank you for your comment – I was one such child struggling to learn spelling by rote but I have to say my mind won’t let me learn by putting images in place I just get even more confused:) I’m an old lady now!!!I would have loved having the more visual meadia available when I was at school used inteligently as you say and it can be a godsend to those who can’t cope.

    As I say I love reading but I am also quite a visual person on the learning front – revision notes written into coloured patterns that kind of thing. Some of the commentators I spoke of wrote of learning about life from the books and I just feel this is is only a small part of the story – a lot of new situations and emotons and understanding can be shared through the word but learning about life and people needs interaction with life and people.

    I’m glad interactive storytelling is making a comeback – as long as reading and writing skills are still learnt – I have a blind friend who says she would not find life so very difficult if she didnt live in a ‘word’ orientated society, our children need the skills or they will miss a great deal of importance.

  2. I recently read that the ancient druids used to spend 20 years learning their history, their teachings and their beliefs. Nothing was recorded in text as they greatly believed that relying on the written word for learning affected your ability to use your memory as there became a reliance on the words on paper, rather than your own brain.

    I can really see the merits of this thought process. Whilst I am an avid reader, I must admit that I have many books on various topics that I will only skim through to get to the content I want or need. I don’t attempt to learn what is within because I know I can always go back to it as a reference, should I need it.

    There seems to be this belief that you can only take in a certain amount of information and then the rest is lost somewhere. But I don’t think that’s true. Even some schools have been adopting a more ‘new age’ method of teaching visually as there have been many studies that have proven we are more likely to take in information and retain for much longer if we have tools to learn.

    One of my teacher friends tells me that he uses this method. He could stand there an write a word on the board and tell his students to learn each letter then re-spell it until they get it right, but the odds are once the pressure of learning has passed, it may be forgotten. What he does actually do is teach them to visualise the word as a picture. For example, ‘flower’. He’ll have them close their eyes and imagine each letter forming a petal, giving it an identity in colours of their choosing. What he finds is that many of those children can then recall the word much easier.

    The same with colour coding notes, making things appealing to the eye.

    There are also the songs that children learn for spelling. So why do some people feel convinced that such learning is based in the desire to read? Many of my graduate friends struggled using text books and sought a lot of their knowledge through video lectures, diagrams and so forth.

    Apparently youtube has been very helpful to them (you just have to check that the information you are learning is correct).

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