When I’m lounging on my comfortable sofa reading, my Persian cat Henry on my lap, I sometimes have a nagging fear that I’m being lazy. Perhaps I should be “doing something.” Of course, I do have a built-in excuse because usually I’m reading for work. But, even if it wasn’t this very fun, very enjoyable “work,” isn’t it still good to read? Why should I feel guilty about it? What’s wrong with me? Am I like a lot of us, who have trouble giving ourselves permission to do something that doesn’t feel like “hard work?” Hey, what’s wrong with FUN WORK?
Nothing, nothing at all, I tell myself. But, then there’s the analytical side of me looking for the benefits of reading. Not that I need to justify my luxurious recumbent time with my furry companion. Hah, who am I kidding? That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. If I weren’t reading for my happy work, I’d still be reading. Here’s the question: Why read? What useful purpose does it serve? Here are my top eight reasons. Why not top ten? Because that’s a cliché! So, here are the elite eight, not listed in order of preference.
RELAXATION: Even though my pseudo-guilt over being happy and relaxed while reading was the impetus for this blog, I really believe relaxation is beneficial for the body and soul. And, it’s not just me. There is plenty of research that indicates rest and relaxation make you more, not less, productive. It’s why it’s becoming more mainstream to have resting or napping rooms at corporations like the Huffington Post.
IMAGINATION: As we read, we employ our imagination to paint pictures in our minds. Like a muscle, imagination is strengthened through exercise. When the time comes to use our imagination for other endeavors, we have a toned instrument to employ.
EMPATHY: I think any book has the capacity to teach empathy. Even a mystery, or horror book, you may wonder? Hope I didn’t offend anyone with those random picks. But, my point is, some books are created to inspire empathy, others are meant to be entertaining. However, when we read any book we must put ourselves in the characters’ shoes. I mean, we have no choice. We are seeing things from their perspective. This action can place a ley line in our souls that we can access when we view others who are in situations different than ours, and thus they necessarily act differently.
PRIVACY: The character of Macon Leary in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist writes travel guides, and for this reason he must travel frequently. One of the items he is obsessive about packing with him on all his trips is a thick book, which he becomes duly engrossed in when he wants to avoid conversation with strangers who might otherwise want to chat away. Haven’t we all at one point hidden our head in a book, quite literally?
CONVERSATION: Whereas in introversive moments a book creates an effective social shield, it can also be used to incite conversation. When I was a college student and visiting Chicago I wanted to get the cute owner of a Greek restaurant to talk to me. The simple answer to this desire would have been to talk to him myself. I have to laugh now that the straightforward approach never entered my mind. Instead, knowing he was Greek, I prominently displayed my copy of a book of Sappho’s poems, feeling sure he would comment on the Greek letters on the cover, even if he wasn’t familiar with her work. He did. Conversation sparked!
CREATIVITY: Writers are artists who use words. And, just like other artists, their work ranges from commercial to rarified. So when you read the work of word-artists of any variety, you expose yourself to their brand of creativity and invite the opening up of the same quality within.
KNOWLEDGE: It’s hard to imagine reading a book from which you learn absolutely nothing. Whether it’s a fun new fact, a word whose definition you need to look up, or a story set in a city you’ve never visited, there’s always something to learn when you sit down to read.
FUN: Fun isn’t a four-letter word. Nope, it’s a three-letter word. F-U-N. See? I think sometimes we forget, or at least I do, that when we have fun for no other reason than to have fun, we release tension. When we release tension we’re happier, healthier and, as a result, more enjoyable for others to be around. If we read for fun, we’re bringing a better person to face the world when we’re not reading.
Relaxation. Imagination. Empathy. Privacy. Conversation. Creativity. Knowledge. Fun. These elite eight components of life are all enhanced when we read. Now, it could be that you don’t feel the need to justify your lazy time on the couch. But, just in case you do, you now know what a tremendous service you’re doing yourself and the society you live in by reading. Read on!