Reading is at a crossroads between entertainment, story-telling and art. Humans have always been hungry for stories, in any shape – theatre, film, book. The proliferation of TV series is there to prove, if need be, how attached we still are to story-telling. But visual story-telling and entertainment might replace the written word. What’s the point, when you could watch a film, to go through the effort of reading a novel?
Well firstly it asks more of you – yes, it is more of an effort. You have to use your imagination actively, picture the characters and scenes from the descriptions. It develops your creativity and your independent thinking. In one word, reading is a better exercise. It is quite literally food for thought.
Secondly, reading helps you write. You might think that’s not such a useful skill, what with the world becoming more digital. On the contrary! Nowadays there is a lot of writing going on – maybe even more so than before, because of the increased use of emails and text messages. Young people use their phones to write, not talk, as several studies led in the US and the UK have shown. If writing is becoming the younger generations’ main mean of communication, then they need to do more reading.
Thirdly, books are the only medium which uses exclusively words. And words are the only way we’ve got to communicate with others and express our inner thoughts. Body language is an important part of all dialogue, of course, but it’s acting at a subconscious level – words are the main tool we use to interact with other human beings.
Which brings me to my fourth, and last, point. The novel’s main strength is its capacity to represent interiority. Films can’t tell you what someone is thinking. Films require dialogue and visuals, whereas novels can give you a character alone in a room for six hours and keep us engaged by painting the richness of their inner world. We need to remember people have depth, have thoughts, are more than what we see of them – and books allow us to do that. Reading enables us to enter other people’s minds, boosting our social awareness and our understanding of others. It allows us to share another person’s experience.
So if people ask “why read?” this would be my answer: books are an important part of being human.