My long-standing love story with reading:
Ever since my childhood, I have been besotted with reading. It is the only consistent habit that has stayed with me over the last four decades of my life. “Why are you always reading story books? Read your schoolbooks!” This was my mother’s common complaint when I was in school and college. Come to think of it, she says this to me even now. The only difference is she will ask whether I don’t have office work to do. 😊
I read because I love to read. I’m partial towards fiction. I love to read stories. I do not generally have a preference for what to read. I will read anything that catches my fancy.
I read the same books multiple times. My reading is influenced by the time of life I am in. The same books that I have read some years apart have given me different meanings each time I have read them. I have written previously in another forum about my reading habit.
What reading means to me:
“The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you”W Somerset Maugham
I firmly believe in this concept. Some books have more meaning than others and that is perfectly all right with me. I am also not in the habit of following best-selling book lists or award-winning book lists. If I read about a book or someone recommends it, I will check it out. Otherwise, it is a free flow. There are multiple unread books in my library and I generally pick up books from used book sales and stores.
I am delighted to have passed on this reading habit to my nieces – despite living far away from them. I am sure their parents have a part to play in it, but I am happy to take the credit. I also observe many students at NumberNagar® who struggle to read.
As I was pondering on these points recently, I thought I should share how reading has influenced my life. I have arrived at these points in hindsight, I certainly did not set out to achieve any of these outcomes. As Steve Jobs expressed in his famous commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 –
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”Steve Jobs
Lessons from reading:
Let us examine these points one by one.
#1 Improved communication skills
Let us get obvious out of the way. Reading improves communication skills. When practiced consistently, it enhances one’s ability to communicate effectively. It could be either orally or in writing or both. In my case, I communicate better in writing than in speech. Communication is an essential life skill in all walks of life. So, it is a no-brainer that all of us should develop this skill.
Reading also builds a strong vocabulary. It is true that a minimal vocabulary is sufficient to achieve simplicity in communication. However, an expanded vocabulary has made me greatly appreciate literary beauty in all its nuances. I know that ‘happy’ is not appropriate when I am feeling ‘euphoric’ and ‘sad’ doesn’t cut it when I am feeling ‘agonised’.
Even in today’s world where text editors and grammar apps can write for us, an expanded vocabulary is a valuable skill to have.
#2 Expanded horizons
When you read, mental horizons are expanded both literally and figuratively. When you read any story, it takes you beyond the confines of time and space. It helps you understand lives in different times in history (and future) and different places around the world (and beyond). All of this can be achieved as you relax in an armchair in the comfort of your own home.
By reading these stories, you can live experiences that you wouldn’t in the course of your own life. By discussing your reading experience, you can further expand your thinking horizons. This has been especially true for me ever since I joined this outstanding book club – Bring Your Own Book, Bengaluru chapter. Even though I have been reading all my life, I have only recently begun deliberately discussing my reading with others. In the last 2+ years of being part of this club, I have greatly expanded the diversity of reading subjects and thoroughly enjoyed the discussions around books.
#3 Active imagination
“Imagination is more important than knowledge”Albert Einstein
I can safely say that reading has solely contributed to my heightened sense of imagination. Whenever I read, I can vividly imagine pictures in my mind. The story runs as a series of screenshots in my brain. This experience is highly liberating. With the mind alone as my canvas, the sense of freedom to vividly paint on it is exhilarating.
In today’s world of sensory overload, children and grown-ups alike are deprived of opportunities to exercise their imagination. Constant activity seems to be the norm. Reading can help break from these shackles and let your imagination take you places.
#4 Improved tolerance
By reading stories from around the world and all times in history, I have developed tolerance towards a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It could be differences in background, lifestyle, culture, traditions, practices, habits and so on. I may or may not agree or approve, but I am undoubtedly tolerant.
I have learned over time that this quality of tolerance has shaped my life significantly. It has helped me be empathetic, kind, and compassionate towards people and situations. In troubled times, we are living in, tolerance is a premium quality to possess.
#5 Immersion as second nature
I can be oblivious to the world around me when I am reading a book, for hours at a time. This laser-sharp focus until I complete a chapter or the entire book has proved to be a virtue. Because this is a ‘muscle’ I have developed over a long period of time, I can extend the same focus in other activities.
Whether it is a project at work or a project at home, I can focus for long periods of time until the work is complete. This has served me well in both professional and personal lives.
#6 Heightened self-awareness
Reading and imagination have together enabled me to understand myself better. I can revel in long periods of solitude, completely at peace with myself. I can analyse and articulate my thoughts and feelings to myself and others. I can clearly communicate my needs to myself and others. I can identify specifically what help I need from whom and ask for it.
For an introvert like myself, a healthy combination of peaceful solitude and clear communication with people around me is necessary. This is an ongoing process, has got refined over a long period of time, and I do struggle with it. However, the reading habit has greatly contributed to this continual process of introspection and self-awareness.
#7 Developed intuition for the language
Because I read for the love of it, I have subconsciously developed an intuition for the English language. I can feel the beauty of writing as I read. I can also feel the errors with equal intensity. I often joke with my friends that “I don’t read – I proofread”. If you ask me to explain why a sentence is wrong, I wouldn’t be able to express it very well until I go back and check the rules of grammar. However, I can feel something is right or wrong just by reading.
An unexpected outcome of this intuition is that I can review and edit ruthlessly. This critical analysis of any piece of writing combined with my other natural skill of attention to detail makes me a good reviewer and editor. This was not something I expected to be good at, but reading has made it happen for me.
#8 Created an insatiable thirst to learn
As I read more and more, I realise how much more there is to read and learn. It helps me get a sense of my own abundant ignorance. This helps me constantly keep myself on my toes when it comes to learning. For me, reading is a conscious choice, learning happens by the way. The thrilling thing here is the sense of discovery and the joy of learning.
We have been working on a Phonics programme at NumberNagar®. I am absolutely thrilled to unlearn and relearn fundamental concepts of sounds and pronunciation. I catch myself pronouncing different sounds repeatedly to get them right, and I am always smiling during this exercise. The greatest joy here for me is that I find it interesting even after it has become a routine. This joy of self-discovery is most essentially needed in our children’s lives.
Reading has brought me great joy and solace. Regardless of what is happening in my life, I can always count on a good book to give me comfort like nothing else.
I certainly did not set out to read planning to achieve all the outcomes listed above. Those have been the result of pursuing this habit relentlessly and unconditionally.
I urge parents and children to follow this. Read because it brings you joy. Read because it is a worthy habit to have. Do not worry about the ROI – short or long term. The benefits make sense only in hindsight.
“We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for mankind.”Marie Curie