Reading is a voyage and the reader, a voyager.
The earliest piece I remember reading, deriving a meaning out of and experiencing, was the poem Leisure by William Henry Davies. It was part of my 4th grade English literature textbook. It left an imprint on my mind. That’s what I have always wanted my life to be like; no matter where I go, what I do and what I become, this is how I want my life to be. I want the leisure to gaze at the sky full of stars, sit by the ocean and listen to songs, watch movies and travel through time and listen to people’s stories and feel things that I have never felt before. That is the power of reading.
We are born in a little corner of this Earth and we have divided it into a billion fragments on the basis of prejudices and dogma. For the ones who want to fly in the sky of dreams, reading is the first step. It could be anything – the Egyptian hieroglyphs or Shakespeare’s sonnets or Eminem’s lyrics – they will all take you to a universe different from yours or maybe something like yours, most importantly they will give you a new perspective.
Room for Interpretation
We have been reading since forever, even before the dawn of civilization; reading palm prints, cave paintings, weather patterns, star positions and so on. It doesn’t necessarily depend upon speech based writing systems. It is more about interpretations of experiences like a musical note or a pictogram. The important thing here is the stimulus-driven imagination, and the context that is the stimulus. One of the finest examples of reading and varied interpretation is Nostradamus’ quatrains which have been read and interpreted for 462 years now, since 1555 AD. We have always interpreted them to suit our needs.
The Power of Vocabulary
Reading constantly exposes us to new words, phrases, and concepts. Not only does it help us communicate better, it also helps to process information more smoothly. It helps us take decisions and make choices independently, and sharpens our ability to perceive knowledge. A good vocabulary always serves us well, no matter what the situation – navigating through new roads, making a grocery list, comforting a friend, wooing a partner, making excuses for why we didn’t finish our homework, buying or selling a car, making a speech and the list can go on. Never underestimate the power of a good vocabulary.
The Power of Stimulation
For most of us, our existence is a summation of responses to various kinds of stimuli. Reading stimulates the mind and facilitates our flow of thoughts. Reading is equal to experiencing – it stimulates the same regions of the brain that physical and emotional experiences do. When we mentally simulate each situation encountered in a narrative, they become more attuned to the feelings and emotions of others.
Apart from gaining valuable knowledge, we also gain varied perspectives. Many successful managers, CEOs, strategists and policy makers are voracious readers. Reading broadens our horizon and helps us in dealing with problems and situations in a practical and logical way.
The Excitement of Imagination
Writers worth their salt certainly put in a great a deal of imagination into their work. But it also takes imagination for the reader to comprehend and/or appreciate the same. The more we read, the more fertile our imagination and the more exciting are our lives! In this age of information, we have access to all corners of the world and the opportunity to tap into endless possibilities. With access to myriad cultures, customs, traditions, research, mythology and everything else under the sun, it’s a field day for the mind. The da Vincis, Darwins and Magellans must be turning and tossing in their graves watching us swim freestyle in this ocean of knowledge. Or maybe they are helplessly imagining what they could have done with all this knowledge at their disposal!
Decoding the Arts and Promoting Tolerance
Heinrich Heine wrote in his famous play Almansor from 1821 ‘Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.’ (‘Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.’). Book-burning has had a long and dark history, from the destruction of the great ancient libraries of Nalanda and Alexandria to the infamous Nazi book burnings of the 1930s. But they only stand to testify the powerful impact of literature on the human mind and in furthering the development of a civilization.
Reading can make a person more tolerant, accepting, forgiving, loving and appreciative of fellow humans and her/his environment in general. The people who read are the ones who ask questions. The explorers, pioneers and voyagers of a civilization are readers. They create as well as appreciate art in any form that suits them. People who read tend to be empathetic and encounter a wider range of experiences. Reading makes us aware of the beauty that surrounds us, and helps us appreciate life in all its glory.
In the history of mankind, a reader has never been as privileged as we are today. With the amount of material and reading platforms available today, the reader is blessed with abundance and has infinite opportunities to create wonderful and awe-inspiring creations.