May 14, 2021

In defense of reading



 This post has been lying in my drafts for over a year now. Finally wrapped it up as this is something I want to convey.

Do you love reading? Does your child love to read? 

If yes, continue this powerful habit, even if you hear otherwise.

If no, that is perfectly okay too. There are various other ways by which we can learn and understand the world.

I belong to the first category. I love to read, so is my 9-year old daughter. Our conversations at home are mostly triggered by books. 

There are multiple reasons why people read.

Some enjoy reading as an activity per se. They read for pleasure - just the process of reading a moving prose or poetry that paints a beautiful picture is such an elevating experience in itself. From the magical world of Harry Potter, certain lines of Dumbledore are stuck to my mind for eternity.

"Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it."

Reading helps you visualize and create mental images. I agree with the argument that real-life experiences are more valuable but not everyone has the resources (time, money, effort) to experience all that there is to experience in a single lifetime. For eg, I'd love to visit Mussoorie to experience the pine forests that Ruskin Bond so beautifully explains in his books, but I'm more than content, for now, reading his prose that paints vivid imagery of the flora and fauna of the hills.

Books can be a perfect companion, especially in the present lockdown times where you can be transported to a different place in minutes. Books take us down on a journey through various cultures, timelines, and situations. 

Reading puts you in a state of flow and helps to increase focus and concentration. Reading by itself can be a meditative activity. 

As you can see, the purpose of reading is not only about gathering information. 

I came across another argument that reading increases our EGO and that people who read a lot have more EGO. I respectfully disagree with this generalization. I know many people who read a lot and are so down-to-earth. I also know people who don't read books but have quite a big ego. 

Being an avid reader, what I have experienced is that books have made me more humble. Every time I read an inspiring book with thought-provoking ideas, it just makes me feel awed and reinforces the idea "katradhu kaimann alavu, kallaadhadhu ulagalavu" (What I know is a drop, what I don't know is an ocean).

Any action we do can boost our ego if we allow it to do so. Reading, writing, teaching, sharing, learning, content creation on social media - any action for that matter. 

Our ego can also be boosted by the information we receive, regardless of the source of the information - books being one of the sources. Getting a lot of information from people can also boost our ego. It isn't dependent on the source, but rather how WE perceive ourselves based on the information gathered.

The other argument often heard is that the application/implementation of what we have learned is more important than gathering knowledge. Yes, there is a lot of merit to this argument. But I see it from a different angle. When you read a book with a lot of ideas, it isn't possible to implement all that's been shared. From the 100 odd ideas, picking the 10 key takeaways that are relevant to your situation and life is in itself a skill. This cannot happen if we just skim through a book. Deep reading is essential to distill those crucial ideas relevant to us. 

Another argument against reading is that books are written from an author's perspective, his/her context based on his/her problems and the solutions he/she has figured out. I don't see this as an issue at all. When we have conversations with people, aren't they too sharing their perspectives, their context, their problems, and solutions? Yes, the body language, voice modulation and tones used do make a difference and we can learn more from such cues.

But not many of us have one-on-one direct access to people from whom we can learn from. Access to people might seem easy in the current social media age but not applicable for all. Opening up to people and strangers doesn't come naturally to everyone. Suppose, a person whom we admire sits in front of us. The ensuing conversation completely depends on the kind of questions we ask this person. If we feel shy or too conscious, we may not be forthcoming with our questions. If their body language isn't friendly enough, we might not want to intrude on them with our "silly" questions. But when it comes to books, the author anticipates the questions a reader might have while reading a particular chapter or concept. The author might be willing to elaborate the concept with his/her personal experiences that one can resonate with. Many times, I have felt an author talking directly to me, the questions that came to my mind getting addressed in the subsequent chapters. 

There are multiple sources of learning - books, podcasts, articles, videos, courses, in-person conversations. Choose the ones that work for you based on your personality and convenience. No one source is superior or inferior to another.

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