Do you know that leisure reading in the US is at an all-time low?
It’s a shocker because science shows that reading is good for you.
If you’ve not inculcated a regular reading habit, then you’re missing out on lowering your stress and anxiety, among numerous other health benefits. Let me address the common objections around reading before we dissect the importance of reading.
Table of Contents
Frequently Asked Questions About Reading
Here are a few of the most common questions regarding reading.
1. Does reading make you smarter?
Yes, research proves it does. Reading boosts your problem-solving skills because you constantly think, reason, and try to keep the story fresh in mind. It also strengthens your vocabulary and helps you in expressing yourself.
If you can read in more than one language, the regions of your brain involved in learning new information and spatial navigation increase in size.
2. How to improve your focus while reading?
If you struggle with reading for long periods, here are four tips:
1. Turn off your electronic gadgets: Switch them off, or make their accessibility difficult. Checking your phone or email will distract you.
2. Find quiet time: Choose a time of the day, which is the most peaceful for you. It could be early in the morning or late at night.
3. Use your hand as a guide: It is natural for your eyes to get attracted to motion. Therefore, use your index finger to create a movement on the page. Move slowly from left to right to stay focused on the words.
4. Read in sprints: Set timers for 15 minutes, start reading, pause, and read again for 15. If you’re reading an ebook, then use the Pomodoro Timer PRO Chrome extension to execute this technique. If you prefer a physical book, you can set the alarm on your phone.
3. How long does it take to read 100 pages?
The average person can read 100 pages of non-fiction in about 3.5 hours. Since a single-spaced page is typically 500 words long, you may read faster or slower than this, depending on your average reading speed.
4. How can you read more books?
Here are a few ways to practice reading and read more books:
1. Always keep a book handy: Make sure a book, newspaper, or a reading device is near you – even if you are going out. When you have a few minutes of downtime, read a couple of pages.
2. Block out your calendar to read: Try allocating about 30 minutes for reading during your lunch break or before going to bed.
4. Read what you like – Feel free to give up midway or even a few pages into a book you’re not enjoying.
5. Should you read on screen or paper?
Reading on a screen in the evenings can negatively affect your sleep. So choose a physical book over it to eliminate distractions and focus better. Multiple studies have reported that students learn better and fully remember what they read on paper.
Next, let’s look at the top seven benefits of reading.
1. Reading Reduces Stress
A University of Sussex found that reading is better and faster than other methods such as having tea or listening to music to calm frazzled nerves. You can reduce stress by 68% only by six minutes of silent reading.
So take out a few minutes every day to lose yourself in an author’s imaginary world to escape your worries.
Just try to ensure you don’t fall for the characters in a novel. If you do fall in love and don’t like the plot, you can always throw your book and curse the characters (because that’s also relaxing?)
2. Improves Your Writing Skills
If you write for a living, reading is essential to get better at your craft. Get your hands on newspapers, magazines, novels, articles, or whatever interests you. If you don’t read regularly, you might run out of ideas and struggle to write.
If you’re in the process of developing your writing voice, you can imitate your favorite authors, word-by-word, by hand. For example, American author Steven Pressfield copied line-by-line novels by Hemingway – ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘Tropic of Capricorn’. It helped him shape his storytelling technique, pacing, and voice.
Katie Yeakle, the executive director at American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI), also recommends hand writing classic sales letters to learn the foundation of persuasive writing.
Tear apart their literary mechanics: Note their sentence structure, tone of language, imagery, adjectives, grammar, and other parts of speech, phrases, paragraphs, and writing nuances that fascinate you. You can create a blank template from the stylistic features of a writer’s voice. Here’s an example of the same:
Sarah Baughman, a writer and trained teacher, breaks down the imitation exercise in six steps below.
3. Fights Alzheimer’s Disease And Cognitive Decline Of The Brain
Reading even fights Alzheimer’s by lowering the levels of brain protein, typically a beta-amyloid protein, partly responsible for the disease. A UC Berkeley study found a direct correlation between the protein and activities that require rational thinking, such as playing chess, doing puzzles, and reading.
Like other parts of the body, the brain requires exercise to stay active and healthy. Since reading is mentally stimulating, it slows down the cognitive decline of the brain. Increased cognitive activities across the lifespan have found to have a direct link with a slower late-life mental decline that keeps dementia at bay.
4. Reading Literary Fiction Makes You More Empathetic
Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill. “It enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano wrote of their findings on how reading fiction improves Theory of Mind (ToM).
ToM is defined as the human capacity to grasp that other people hold beliefs and desires different from others.
Since, fiction is about an imaginary world, you can experience a real-life relationship with the characters. For example, after reading John Grogan’s “Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog”, you may experience increased camaraderie with dog owners.
Why does non-fiction not have the same effect of improving your empathy?
Keith Oatley, professor at the University of Toronto, shared the following with The Guardian, “In fiction, also, we are able to understand the characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have.”
5. Reading Is A Mental Workout And Improves Your Memory
By the time you are an adult, your brain develops millions of neural pathways for processing and recalling information. You can solve problems quickly and execute routine tasks with little mental effort. However, it means your brain doesn’t receive any stimulation. You need to put a conscious effort so that it keeps developing.
Reading challenges your mind and forms new pathways, thereby breaking your worn-out routine.
Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist, states that “human beings were never born to read.” The act of reading gives you a “unique pause button for comprehension and insight” compared with watching a film or listening to a tape.
6. Imparts Knowledge And Develops Your Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking enables you to make rational and informed decisions. Here’s how reading fiction improves this skill in three ways:
1. Reading fiction nudges your brain to ask more questions about the imaginary world – For example, when you read Harry Potter, your imagination and creativity launch you into a universe with the possible scenarios of how Harry’s story might play out.
2. Expands your worldview and expose yourself to new ideas, places, and people – A good book can also introduce you to a different world. J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series plunged deep into the wizarding world, opening doors to magic potions, Muggles, death eaters, Quidditch, and the like.
3. When you read, your brain behaves as if you are doing those things – YES! Even though you are just reading about them, your brain finds connections between your problems and the information shared in the material.
7. Reading Improves Your Concentration
A usual day of a knowledge worker is filled with regular email and smartphone notifications.
Reading not only improves the brain’s connectivity but also increases attention span (consider a physical copy if you easily get distracted). When you’re engrossed in a book, you focus on the story or discerning insights on a specific topic.
If you want to make your reading sessions exciting and challenging, here are three things you can do:
- Try to guess the ending of the book once you are halfway through it.
- Join a book club to discuss books based on a topic or an agreed-upon reading list.
- Ask yourself questions regarding the characters and situations in the book.
Seven Books Every Writer Should Read
As a writer, knowing the benefits of reading books isn’t sufficient. Here are seven book recommendations for you to develop your chops.
Published 95 years ago, the tragic tale of Jay Gatsby and his elusive love, Daisy Buchanan, has captivated the hearts of millions of readers and counting. The story is written in simple language, brilliantly plotted, and superbly characterized. Fitzgerald culminates the story breathtakingly.
In his first book, Currey discusses the daily habits of 161 great writers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, and philosophers. These habits, although odd, enabled great minds to do the work they love to do.
For example, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky never composed unless he was sure no one could hear him. Further, he would stand on his head to “clear the brain.”
Stylistically exhilarating yet dense, Ulysses chronicles the encounters of the main character on an ordinary day in Dublin. Replete with puns, parodies, and experimental prose, the book is an excellent example of how every chapter can reflect and emphasize or play against what’s going on in the story itself.
Creative block is a challenge that writers and other creative professionals face regularly in the course of their careers. In this book, Pressfield addresses the struggle and shares tips on overcoming creative blocks of every kind.
This book is written beautifully. With just a handful of characters, Woolf captures the psychological complexity of human beings effortlessly. Not to be missed if you want to see poetic writing at its best.
A highly-acclaimed memoir, King shares writing tips and work ethic, and also throws light on daily routine. He even narrates a few life instances that shaped him as the author we know today. It’s perfect for every writer – aspiring or established.
A wise and inspiring fable about the pilgrimage that life should be, The Alchemist is a masterpiece. A book comprising not more than 208 pages, Coehlo makes you not only dream away with the main character and his journey but also visualize your journey in life. That’s storytelling at its best.
Now that I have shared scientific evidence for why reading is good for you, it is time to fill your bookshelves and start reading. If you are a writer, picking up books by authors from different genres is essential to learn your craft. Remember that a regular reading habit is a foundation for good writing.
Want to share a book that you thoroughly enjoyed? Or want to share a pun that only book nerds will understand? The comment section below is all yours.