In some ways, reading books has fallen on hard times. Information is so readily available that we can get any amount of it that we want at the push of a button or the click of a mouse. Why then would we choose to sit down with a book and spend the time required to read it through?
I’d like to suggest five reasons we should still read books, even in this age of unlimited, instantaneously available information.
- Books do more than just give us information. Mortimer Adler in his excellent work How to Read a Booksays there are at least three goals of reading – entertainment, information and understanding. Of those three, books are best suited for increasing our understanding. So if we want not just information but understanding, we should be book readers.
- Books expose us to the thoughts and opinions of those who’ve gone before us. Everything we see and hear via television and the internet is produced by our contemporaries for the most part. Books, on the other hand open up the world of the past to us through the eyes of those who lived it. Any time we read something written in the past, we learn something about the culture of the time, the way people thought, etc. – even if what we’re reading is not specifically a history book.
- Books discourage multitasking. Many studies have shown that there’s no such thing as true multitasking and that attempting to do it is bad for us – yet many of us still do it. For example, while writing this post I’ve checked my email at least once in response to the siren song of that little ‘ding’ on my iPhone. However, it is much more difficult to multitask while reading a book, especially a old fashioned paper copy. The reason, in my case, is that I tend to read books in different places than I interact with electronic media so the temptation is not as strong and it’s not as easy to move from one thing to another.
- Similarly, books build concentration. One of the consequences of the internet has been that people’s ability to concentrate has been weakened. When everything comes to us in sound-bites and bullet points we begin to expect not to have to concentrate on anything too long in order to get what we’re looking for. Read any guide on writing blog posts and you’ll be told to make it scanable and to include bullet points (like this post!). Books, however, require us to spend an extended period of time interacting with the text and, because of that, can be valuable in teaching or re-teaching us how to concentrate.
- Finally, books help us relax. Stress levels are higher today than ever before, in part because of our constant connectedness to media and the relentless barrage of information that brings. I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I can best disconnect and decompress is with a book and a beverage out on the deck in the afternoon. I love C.S. Lewis’ quote: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” And while I may quibble with him over his choice of beverage, the relaxing image conjured up by his quote would be destroyed with anything else substituted for a book.
Do you see reading books as an important activity still? If so, why?