“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~ C. S. Lewis
Lately, my newsfeed has been brimming with articles about how scientific research has proven that reading is good for you, how readers are smarter/better/sexier, on why readers of fiction are more empathetic people—things like this.
My first reaction was, um, isn’t this all stating the obvious?
But I keep forgetting that while I grew up without computers (or even video games, despite an attempt at interest in Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.), let alone the Internet, younger generations are quite literally inhabiting a different world.
I wasn’t huddled under the covers texting after bedtime. I was whipping out my flashlight to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Flowers in the Attic and Emily of New Moon under the covers (depending on the week, the year).
I feel fortunate to have been weaned on books and to have fallen in love with them as I have. I am also a huge fan of the possibilities afforded by the digital age, in all its non-linear complexity and expansiveness.
I would love to believe that a perfect human is in some ways a hybrid one, able to have moments of pleasure reading a story on actual paper, from start to finish, while lying on the grass, leaning against a tree, or on a hammock in some far-flung place; and have other moments delving into the universe of meta-literature, where stories, voices, and identities can shapeshift and become anything we’d like them to be.
I would love to see a human with a calm, clear, focused mind able to form and maintain a beautiful, long flow of thoughts and arguments, and have a gorgeous imaginative mind able to process more information than ever before, and generate ever new ideas and worlds.
For me, reading is as organic to my lifestyle as breathing. I read because I write, I write because I read, and a life with books, words, pens, journals and word-images is natural and fundamental to me.
But it’s fun to break it down more, so, in the name of holding onto the old so that the new can be that much stronger, here are my reasons for absolutely loving reading actual books:
They feel good.
It never gets old, the feel of a velvety new book cover, and then the frayed edges of a well-worn favorite. It’s like a baby’s security blanket: the more you use it, and the more tattered it gets, the more it takes on pieces of you (or the love of previous owners), so that it’s very physicality roots you to your own special world.
They look and smell good.
A great album or book cover has multi-generational appeal. We are very visual people, us humans—scientists agree that it is our dominant sense—and a great book cover and book design has the ability to transport, and lets us carry around what amounts to a work of art. And ah, that strange, intoxicating, gluey-inky smell of a new book, and that stunning mustiness of books going way back into dim yellow depths—magic.
They are so much more than the sum of their parts.
They are words on a page. That’s all. How insanely amazing that they can make you laugh, cry, wish, yearn, yell and everything in between.
They are a vehicle for self-expression.
As humans, we are naturally inclined (thank goodness!) to creating, and expressing ourselves, to leaving a stamp or mark on things. Writing your name inside a new book as a student, writing notes in the margins (I have been known to write-shout expletives at authors I disagree with), highlighting portions of a text you love, or just doodling your daydreams on paper—this is the stuff of heaven, a true blending of minds near and far.
They allow you to fall.
If you give yourself the luxury of time to read a book through to the end, you will be rewarded with the feeling of having been swept right into a vortex where strangers dwell, who become so familiar that you never want to leave them behind. That feeling of horrible shock that comes when a great story ends—when it seems like your very own world by now—is worth the price of setting aside time to read.
They expand mindfulness and connectivity.
When you do fall into a great story, especially fiction, what you’re also doing is increasing the number of beings/people/characters you can relate to, and increasing your ability to feel connected to human feelings and situations outside your ordinary sphere. You might just find this affecting your ability to relate to others in the “real” world. Plus, reading = patience = concentration = focus = attention = mindfulness, to be brief.
They are good road companions.
This one is simple. Books don’t require Wifi, which you may well not have when you’re somewhere like a near-deserted island in Laos, or an awesome shack in the mountains or a remote airport with hours to wile away. As long as they don’t accidentally drown or catch fire, books are strong, enduring pieces of magic, information and storytelling, and they’ll always be there for you.
They help me see myself better.
Because books can increase the scope of what we can know, understand and imagine, they let me position and then re-position myself in the world. They help clarify ideas, issues of identity and emotions by opening up worlds and then by being there, stable and sure, any time I want to revisit.
They make me want to live my life more fully.
Every time I “meet” a new character, country, adventure, it inspires me to do more, feel more, live more. This might be the greatest gift a good book brings.
There are so many things you can do with them.
You can balance your tea on it while riding squished on a train—coaster! You can stuff postcards, business cards, great ideas scribbled on napkins and love letters inside them, you can write phone numbers on them in a moment of desperation. You can craft, and make your own cloth or paper covers for them. And best of all, you can share them—giving away your favorite book might be the most rewarding feeling in the world.
They remind me that life is more than a quote.
Life sometimes takes on the air of one giant stream of memes these days. Quotes can be very inspiring, but imagine how much more one can learn by discovering the greater context for these small slices of wisdom. The possibilities are large as the number of minds in the world—and then some.
*Originally published in elephant journal, here!