Why Read?

Kelly reminds us that despite busy schedules and today’s technological society, reading should still be a priority.

I personally believe that an undergraduate liberal arts degree is the key to success.

An undergraduate liberal arts degree goes far beyond expanding one’s knowledge. Having grounding in good literature and a basic understanding of the sweep of human history and culture provides the best foundation for any future learning and for being able to interact with other human beings.

In her article, “Should I Read or Should I Write?” Stephanie Vanderslice says that she found reading to be important in her life, but “It’s often the activity that gets squeezed out”. Many of us face similar situations like that of Venderslice, in which we put aside reading simply to do other tasks in hand, even mundane things like housework.

The notion of believing that reading is a waste of time must be broken.

Over the past decade, Keith Oatley and Raymond Mar of York University acquired data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness.

In Oatley and Mar’s 2006 study, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. “The more fiction people [had] read,” they wrote, “the better they were at perceiving emotion in their eyes, and . . . correctly interpreting social cues.”

In 2009, they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness and correlated those results with the amount of time subjects spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered “a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory of mind abilities”.

Concluding from Oatley and Mar’s results, reading fiction improves one’s empathy and social skills. One’s empathic ability may develop, because when one reads, one is forced to view situations through another character’s eyes.

A study of a Fortune 400 health insurance company conducted by Peter Salovey, a psychology professor at Yale, looked at the correlations between emotional intelligence and salary and found that people rated highest by their peers in emotional intelligence received the biggest raises and were promoted most frequently. Thus, since reading fiction will increase one’s emotional skills, one’s chances of receiving the highest salaries will also increase.

Think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — students, parents, teachers, employees, etc. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction. In my English class, after reading Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” we discussed the amount of time each of us spends being “somebody”. The amount of time dedicated to merely communicating is overwhelming.

It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience.

So the next time you find yourself spending some time reading a fictional novel, carry on and reassure yourself that you are improving your chances of success by doing so.

  1. Kelly

    Thank you, Kitty and Penny for commenting!

    Penny, you bring up a very interesting point. My school actually enforces the use of iPads instead of palpable books on its students. So even people like me (who would prefer actual books) are forced to use ebooks.


  2. Penny Begley

    People have almost forgotten reading. Now the ipad has taken the road and replaced the reading method. People refer reading on tabs rather than books.

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  3. Kitty Thornton

    Hi Kelly,

    You’re so right about the importance of reading. It’s something I wish I did more. I’m so grateful for all I got to read in high school through college.


  4. Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,

    As an avid reader it is rewarding to read in your blog all of the stats that I had believed to be true. Now I know more details about recent scientific studies that prove the benefits of reading!

    I was wondering how many people you encounter who believe reading is “a waste of time”?

    Book Lover

  5. Kelly

    Hi Book Lover!

    Unfortunately, I cannot give you a specific number as to how many people I know who believe that reading is a waste of time, because I don’t inquire others about that specific question, but I have met people who have said phrases such as “reading is a waste of time, because I have so many other things to do” and people degrading the value of fiction, commenting that they do not want to spend their time reading a made-up story, because they do not see the point in it. Many people believe that they do not gain a lot from the act of reading; thus, they may claim that reading has no point or it is solely for pleasure. I also always see classmates who dread reading assignments.

    I think that the statement “reading is a waste of time” usually arises from comparing the amount of time one spends reading to the amount of other necessary activities such as work that one needs to complete. If one has a busy schedule, reading is often squeezed out of the schedule.

    It also depends on what you do for a living. If one is, let’s say, a computer programmer, one may felt compelled to spend time writing up code instead of reading. Computer programming takes so much time – up to days-, so one may feel guilty when one spends two hours reading when one could be coding (something that one’s job requires).



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