The written word has been one of the most important contributions to society of all time. But, as time passes and exciting new technology becomes available, it’s easy to overlook the importance of books and reading. These days, we’re more likely to watch television or browse social media than we are to crack open a good book.
But, just because books may not be as popular today as it was in the past, that doesn’t make reading any less valuable or important. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that books and literacy are more important to us as a society than they’ve ever been before.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the importance of books and the benefits of reading and literacy.
Why Books Are Important
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and truer words may never have been spoken. The ideas and stories written in books have shown the power to change people, governments, and entire societies. Reading and books are critical to a well-informed and intelligent society, and a culture that does not value reading or literacy is unlikely to succeed.
Reading helps us to develop our thinking while providing us with the knowledge and life lessons that we need to grow as people. Books have the power to transport you to a faraway place without you ever needing to leave your chair, and they immerse us in a world of imagination and wonder that other forms of entertainment simply cannot compete with.
The skills and traits that we develop when reading allow us to grow our intelligence on a practical and emotional level. When we read and immerse ourselves in a story, and it’s characters, we’re learning essential traits ourselves, like the ability to empathize with others, and use our imagination.
Of course, books and literature are so much more than just a way to entertain ourselves and expand our minds. There are genuine benefits for your mental and physical health that reading can allow you to unlock, and we’ll discuss those benefits in just a moment.
But first, a single anecdote from writer Neil Gaiman helps to underscore the importance of books and literature. Gaiman was sitting in on a panel whose focus was to discuss the growing needs of the American prison system moving forward. But, it’s hard to predict the future, and the team tasked with forecasting future growth or shrinkage in the industry needed to figure out a reliable metric that could help predict the future prison population.
The team managed to develop a straightforward algorithm that could help them forecast what the prison population would look like in the future. They didn’t need to crunch numbers or create a formula so detailed that only a mathematician could understand it. All they needed to do was look at the literacy figures of 10 and 11-year-olds in America.
Of course, there are so many factors that influence whether or not someone heads down the road towards a life of crime, and there are plenty of criminals out there who are exceptionally well-read. But, that does not diminish the point that literacy is a significant indicator of the success or failure of a society.
The Benefits of Reading
Perhaps the best way to understand the importance of books is to familiarize yourself with the myriad of benefits that reading can provide to you. Books and literature provide us with a source of entertainment, all while educating and enriching us in the process. There’s simply no end to the good reading can do, and we’ll explain some of our favorite benefits below.
It’s Great Exercise for Your Brain
One of the most important reasons why books are so important is that they provide a fantastic form of exercise for our brains. The level of concentration that books demand helps to stimulate the mind, and it’s cognitive functions. Regularly exercising your brain in this way helps to sharpen the mind, especially the parts of our brain that are responsible for concentration and analysis.
As your brain focuses itself on the words you’re reading on the page; it’s being stimulated by all of the information it’s taking in. The brain processes all of these stimuli, and your imagination transports you to an entirely new place. This stimulation proves exceptionally healthy for your brain and the various mental processes that are needed as you read.
What’s most essential and impressive about this benefit of reading is that the benefits aren’t lost when you’re finished reading. When you exercise your brain through reading, the brain can then apply those benefits in other situations. A mind that’s been sharpened by reading and literature will also be sharp when it comes to handling other high-level tasks that require brainpower.
Reading Expands Your Vocabulary
Think back to when you were in grade school, first developing the ability to read. You inevitably came across some words you couldn’t quite recognize or understand. You’d work through these words, making a note of them and their meaning. This exercise is the exact way that you grow your vocabulary.
Without books, we’d rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to grow your vocabulary. With regular reading, your vocabulary will expand on a nearly daily basis as you learn more new words and phrases. This phenomenon has been proven in a University of Oregon study.
Perhaps the most exciting and interesting part of vocabulary is that once you come across these words as you read, and develop an understanding for the word and its context, you’ll begin working them into your own vocabulary without even realizing how much smarter and well-read you sound.
Reading is a Phenomenal Stress Reliever
People who love to read are quick to point out how entertaining it is to read a great book. But, reading is also an excellent way to reduce stress and calm down. The act of focusing on reading can reduce anxiety and stress while allowing you to relax and decompress in the process.
Stress affects everyone, and for people who have a hard time coping with the pressures of the day, stress can be extremely debilitating, especially during intensely stressful periods. Too much stress can have an impact on your health, also.
But, as you read, you trick your mind into forgetting about the things you’re stressed about and how they’re affecting you. Instead, you are transported to the world that exists within your book, and for the time you spend reading, you’re able to relax and escape your worries.
Books Help You Understand Your Culture While Learning About Others
Another incredible benefit of books is that they can leave you with a profound sense of appreciation for your own culture, as well as other cultures throughout the world.
Reading books from authors that come from the same country or region as you can help inform your worldview of the place you come from and the culture that helped to shape you. At the same time, reading books from authors of other countries and regions will help you develop an appreciation for people and customs you may not be familiar with.
Books Can Help Ward Off Depression
Not only does reading lower stress levels, but it may be able to help ward off feelings of depression. Reading helps to stimulate the same area of the brain that is affected by depression, and it can provide a much-needed boost for people who deal with mild symptoms of depression but aren’t affected enough to take medication for their symptoms.
Why does it help? The concept is similar to how reading helps to reduce stress. Instead of focusing on the things causing your depressed feelings, you’re too busy focusing on reading and comprehending the story you’re reading. When you’re busy focusing on a story, you aren’t focusing on your feelings of depression.
Not only does reading keep your brain occupied and away from depressive thoughts, but reading also helps to reduce stress and provide entertainment, which increases feelings of happiness and contentment.
Reading May Help Prevent Cognitive Decline
As we get older, the age of our brain can begin to show, resulting in decreased cognition and brain function. The older we get, the less “sharp” we tend to become, and this is especially true for people afflicted with conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
Fortunately, reading seems to be able to slow cognitive decline, and it may be able to prevent cognitive diseases, as well.
A study in the Journal of Neurology found that elderly folks who continue reading and engaging in brain games like crossword puzzles into their 70s and 80s are 32% less likely to experience cognitive decline as their peers who are non-readers.
Perhaps even more impressive, a similar study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that those who engage in activities like reading and chess were an incredible 2.5 times less likely to develop cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia as they grow older.
The primary author of the study, Dr. Robert Freidland, concluded that by exercising the grey matter of the brain through activities like reading, are at a higher risk for losing brain power and developing cognitive diseases.
Nonfiction Readers are More Socially Literate
People tend to stereotype bookworms as being nerdy or antisocial, but the fact of the matter is that people who read lots of fiction are generally more socially literate than people who don’t.
Fiction readers tend to have an easier time picking up on body language, social cues, or changes in attitude than people who don’t read much fiction. Regular fiction readers are often immersed in stories that rely on detailed development of characters and social situations. When you read this type of stuff all the time, you begin to pick up on the cues you’ve read about in your real-life interactions with other people.
Meanwhile, folks that read lots of nonfiction didn’t score as well on social awareness tests as fiction readers did. We may be able to attribute this finding to the fact that nonfiction rarely deals with the type of nuanced social details that fiction does, so nonfiction readers rarely read on the kind of social situations that are present in novels.
Reading Often Improves Fluency
Regular reading can drastically improve our reading and language fluency. You’ve probably noticed a friend or classmate who seems to be able to read at lightning speed before. This is a skill that you, too, can build with more practice.
Thinking back to when you were a child, reading was a slow task that required you to sound out different words as you worked to understand them. You may need to read something over several times to develop an understanding of it.
As your reading becomes more fluent, you no longer need to spend this degree of time to read and understand the words. In fact, fluent readers tend to recognize the common shapes that words make, and they can often predict the remaining words in a sentence by putting what they’re reading into context.
Reading fluency is a skill that’s helpful to have in school, and even more useful to have as you embark on your career path.
Reading Books Can Help You Live Longer
It may sound far fetched, but there’s actually some science to back up the claim that reading can help extend your life.
The Journal of Social Science & Medicine published a study that focused on a group of over 3,600 retirees. The study concluded that test subjects who read between 1-3.5 hours per week were 17% less likely to die within the twelve years after the study. Those who read even more than 3.5 hours each week were an impressive 23% less likely to die over the same time span.
The study also compensated for age, gender, race, economic status, education level, and other factors to see if they would have an effect on the results. They did not. Whether you’re rich or poor, college-educated, or a grammar school dropout, the results were the same. Subjects who read more lived longer.
Keep in mind; this study focused exclusively on books. There may not be a similar correlation between mortality and those who read the news or magazines.
Reading Improves Memory and Focus
One of the most notable benefits of books and reading is that they help your critical thinking abilities. We covered this vital benefit earlier in this section. But, reading can also help improve your memory and focus, too.
When our brains comprehend things, it improves the function of our memories. You may remember the tests you took during grade school, which centered around what kind of information you were able to retain based on a passage you read. As an adult, that concept is still the same. Comprehension is a skill that you can hone by reading.
It’s also easier to remember things by reading them, as opposed to seeing them on television or the movies. This is because the act of reading is much more demanding than the act of watching something or processing speech. As you read, your brain continually picks up on pieces of information that are stored in memory, while this might not occur when watching.
Through reading, your focus is also improved. Focus and concentration is a requirement of reading, and it’s virtually impossible to retain the information you read when you aren’t focused. So, just through the act of reading, your focus is improved.
Reading Makes You a Better Writer
Reading and writing go hand in hand, so it’s no wonder that an appreciation for books and reading can also make your writing skills sharper, too.
We discussed earlier how reading helps to expand your vocabulary. As a writer, you’ll be able to use your voracious vocabulary to add passion and interest to your writing, helping the words to jump off the page in the process.
Through reading, you’ll also be informing yourself of the themes, style, and literary elements that good writers employ in their own work. Whether you’re studying their style consciously or not, you’ll absorb some of these techniques only by reading often. Then, you can use them to improve your own writing.
Reading Can Expand Your Mind
One of the best parts about reading is that books provide you with a perspective entirely different from your own. Reading is also the perfect way to educate yourself about other cultures, views, and people. By exposing yourself to new perspectives and worldviews, you’re expanding your mind subconsciously.
Books are also a constant font of learning, as they’re continually introducing new ideas and concepts to you. In being exposed to these ideas, we’re able to avoid one-dimensional thinking and learn to appreciate that which is outside of our perspective of the world. This feature of reading also helps us to be more empathetic.
When we go through life, we tend to look at our perspective as the correct view at all times. Many people struggle with empathy because they have a difficult time putting themselves in the shoes of others. When you read, putting yourself in the shoes of others is a practical requirement of most stories. So, those who read generally have an easier time understanding the perspective of others.
Reading also helps to expand our imagination since we’re always being immersed in worlds that are different from our own and require a healthy dose of creativity to capture in our mind’s eye. As we read, our imagination is stimulated, and we’re able to picture places and people instead of merely pictures, words, and paper.
Even avid readers will be quick to tell you that it’s challenging to get into the groove when you begin reading a new book. But, after a few chapters, you’re well into the swing of things. By the time you finish the book, you find yourself wishing for more chapters to excite you.
Reading Can Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Not only does reading offer a variety of benefits when it comes to learning, writing, and entertainment, but it can also help you get a great night’s sleep. It’s true; regular reading can help you relax and decompress, improving your sleep pattern in the process.
Reading before bed is an incredibly relaxing activity, and it’s a great way to wind down from a busy day. There isn’t a particular type of book you should read either; all that’s important is you get some reading in before bed.
Reading at night helps you relax and find peace, making it far easier for you to fall asleep after a long and stressful day.
Reading is Fun
We’ve been so focused on all of the other benefits that reading can provide that we’ve ignored the fact that reading just for the sake of reading is a benefit in itself.
For centuries, humans have relied on reading to provide them with entertainment and enjoyment. For much of this time, reading was the only gig in town. There were no movie theaters to frequent, or Netflix series to binge-watch.
While reading may not have the bells and whistles of more modern forms of entertainment, it’s still an incredible pastime. The transcendent nature of reading has made it a form of entertainment that’s still tough to beat in an age of special effects and blockbusters with billion-dollar budgets.
Learning to Appreciate Books and Literature
If you’re like many people, you have a hard time finding an appreciation for books and reading. While some people fall in love with reading from an early age, many others find reading to be a chore that they’d rather avoid unless absolutely necessary.
Thankfully, if you’re interested in reading more and learning to appreciate books and literature, there are some tips you can take advantage of that should gently push you in the right direction.
Get in the Habit
In order for you to read more, and learn to appreciate good writing, you’ll need to get into the habit of reading. This seems like common sense, but a surprising amount of people think that they don’t enjoy reading when the truth is that they just aren’t setting aside enough time to relax and crack open a book.
Starting any habit for the first time can be tough, so start off small. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes at a time (whatever you feel comfortable with) and read until the timer goes off. Repeat this every day for a week.
Before you know it, you’ll be into the habit of reading. At first, you may find yourself reading only until the timer goes off. Before long, you’ll find that you want to read more and more, and your short reading sessions grow into hours of reading and enjoyment.
Fill the Gaps in Your Schedule
Even the busiest people in the world regularly find themselves with some downtime throughout the day. One of the best ways that you can get into the habit of reading more is to fill those gaps with a book.
These days, we tend to fill this time in our day mindlessly by scrolling through social media or browsing through other apps on our phone. But, you can just as easily dedicate these small breaks to reading.
You may be surprised by how much additional reading you’re able to get in when you make an effort to fill your downtime with books instead of scrolling through Twitter.
Bookworms tend to think of audiobooks as a form of cheating. Obviously, it’s easier to listen to someone read a book than it is to read and digest the book yourself. But, people are generally busy, and not everyone can dedicate their full attention to reading whenever they would like to.
In these instances, audiobooks make a great companion. You can listen to your book while you walk the dog, drive to work, prepare dinner, or any number of other tasks when you have the mental capacity to do some reading, but you aren’t physically able to read a book at that moment.
Plus, having someone else read to you is a soothing and relaxing activity, so audiobooks are a great way to tune out and relieve some stress.
Read What You Like
We’ve all found ourselves in a situation before where we’ve started a new book based on critical acclaim, or the recommendation of a friend, only to realize that you couldn’t be less interested in what the book has to offer.
But, you started it, right? Doesn’t that mean you need to finish the book? Not at all. Life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. If you’ve slogged through a few chapters of a book and you’re finding it impossible to connect to the story or its characters, don’t waste your time.
Instead of suffering through a book you aren’t enjoying just for the sake of finishing it, move on to something that’s more your style. Reading a book you don’t like will turn the act of reading into a chore, and it may sour you on reading as a hobby altogether. While it’s nice to expand your comfort zone and read different kinds of books, not every book is going to resonate with you, and that’s okay.
Books and reading are critical to education, culture, and our ability to function as a society. Reading as an activity is something that can be fun for everyone, and there are many benefits associated with reading and literacy.
Even if you’re not currently an avid reader right now, you can easily find tons of books that will awaken your imagination and instill a new appreciation for the importance of books.