Why: Reading is a Modern Superpower…

In this modern world there are more and more calls on our finite and disparate store of attention than ever before.  Our concentration is relentlessly pushed and pulled from one subject to another with ever-increasing alacrity and frequency.  Slowly, in a grind that stretches over days, weeks, months and years, our awareness is continually and repeatedly fractured, resulting in our ability to focus being rendered less and less cohesive.

In this accelerating and perpetually amplified widescreen landscape of information, reading can seem at first glance like an ill-afforded luxury, a chore, or simply a waste of time.  If you are already straining at the outer boundaries of information overload wont reading just push you over the edge?  Why would you actively choose to shove yet more information into a skull-space that already feels like it is a balloon, filled to bursting?

This is a very good and important question.  Here, are 7 answers:

#1 You should read because: It gives you more lives than a bag full of cats.

We only have one life that we are aware of.  But if you read you are granted access to an infinite amount of experiences, a countless number of lives.  Thru the act of reading one book you can absorb and process someones entire journey in one sitting.  Every single lesson, every single mistake, and every single scrap of their hard-won knowledge is offered up to you, for the price of a paperback and a few hours of your time.

#2 You should read because: There are no new problems.

There are only a handful of real human problems.  It just seems like there are more because they can appear in a myriad of forms.  The fact of the matter is: if you have a problem in the present you can be pretty sure that, at some point over the last 3000 years, someone a lot smarter than you has: wrestled with, solved handily, and recorded the solution to said problem in a book which has now been passed thru the Darwinian filter of time and has become readily available for your perusal.

#3 You should read because: It makes you a better writer.

When you read a lot you become better a better writer (and thinker) by osmosis.  It happens automatically.  What’s that?  You don’t consider yourself a writer?  Well, just stop and consider how many times a day you: send an email, type a text, or scrawl a note to someone you love.  Whether you identify as one or not, the fact of the matter is, that: in today’s world everyone is a writer and being able to express yourself in this form with clarity and brevity is no longer simply preferable, it has become essential.

#4 You should read because: It can shortcut evolution.

I have observed that when I study something (a book, a set of ideas, a piece of writing) intensely and in depth, my behaviour invariably changes without any conscious effort on my part.  Why this happens I do not fully know, but the fact remains that it does.  When you commit to studying something deeply, if it is something that you truly desire to learn, the very act of studying will cause it to become embodied within you.

#5 You should read because: It strengthens the creative faculty of Imagination.

If you watch a film, or a piece of video, absolutely everything is presented to you.  It is all there on the screen.  You can just sit back and enjoy the ride.  When you read however, you are the one generating: scenes, backdrops, dialogue, and entire worlds.  You are both the creator, and the perceiver of a waking dream.  The faculty that Einstein said was more important than knowledge, the faculty of imagination, is like a muscle and reading is the greatest gym in the world.

#6 And of course: It is a beautiful, boundless, and infinitely pleasurable.

Reading is incredible.  To be fully absorbed in a book or piece of writing is to be somewhere other than this world.  Somewhere outside of time.  It is one of life’s true joys.  From the outside it looks as if nothing is happening.  But inside, inside, you can be transported thru time and space to any place, real or imagined.

You can experience devastating heartbreak, the darkest melancholy, or the deepest and most trenchant rapture.  You can spend time in the filthy trenches of the first world war, choking on the aroma of the dead, or listen to waves as they lap peacefully on the white shores of some faraway beach.  You can witness the whole of life from the perspective of the tiniest insect, or roll ecstatically on the ground while the heavens split open and God herself reaches her blistered arms thru to lay waste to the earth with flame, brimstone, salt and black ash.

All this and more; from a warm armchair; simply thru the act of cracking open a book and reading.

#7  But even after all that, at the end of the day perhaps the most important thing that you gain from reading is: The ability to effortlessly sustain, an unbroken stream of attention.  Otherwise known as: the ability to concentrate.  Reading can literally be an antidote to the growing malady that is: our perpetually fractured, anxiety-inducing, and increasingly fragmentary awareness.

Because it is actually not the increasing amounts of information which are causing the sensation of overload; it is the reactive and frenetic bouncing of our attention.  It is the way that the ubiquitous and screaming inputs of modern life condition our minds to hop from place to place with greater and greater speed; like a frog jacked up on amphetamine pills playing hallucinatory lily pad hopscotch whilst on fire.

In this ever vibrating landscape, in this ever accelerating time, and with these increasing and competing demands for our attention, the ability to sustain your concentration in a focused and unbroken stream for any significant duration of time is a rare and beautiful thing.

In fact, some would say that it is somewhat akin to a Superpower.


Did you like this?

If you enjoyed this you may also like: my love letter to the mountains of Scotland, my essay about one of the best books of advice ever written, or my recent post on how things can be even more beautiful for having been broken.


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402 Replies to “Why: Reading is a Modern Superpower…”

  1. I loved this post! My entire blog centers around it’s theme- read, create, concentrate. Sustaining this skill is a vastly huge concern of mine for our upcoming generations. I have written similar blogs about this very subject. That is why my tagline is “Construct a Life, Not a profile.” I truly believe the more “short cuts” there are to fully reading and comprehending, the less active brains become. I have said, it’s a “give me” mentality. A “feed me” state of mind, turning most eventually, albeit slowly to mush. Read, read, read, then create something, of your own and return it to the universe :) Oh, and I just read your friend’s tribute poem to you, very nicely done! Best~ Julie

    Like

    1. Hey Julie, ;-)
      Thanks SO COOL to hear, I am really glad that you got something from the post. I fully agree with you. It is SO IMPORTANT to be reading, processing and creating (at least for me).
      You are awesome, as is your blog,
      Have a great day, thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

  2. Reblogged this and commented:
    James Radcliffe is an awesome indie listener-supported musician who also happens to write quite well. He was one of my first followers on “The Oddity Writer”, and I am thankful for his support in these early days. Now, enjoy his fascinating blog post!

    Like

  3. Thanks so much for a few minutes of using my favorite superpower, complete with a challenging and entertaining mental image. I’ve always loved reading and now I have some additional motives to make it a daily priority. :-)

    Like

  4. This was wonderfully said. With text messages, Facebook notifications, calls (if people still use the phone for that) and other alerts, our thought processes are constantly being interrupted inevitably shortening our attention span. I love how you said reading can be a cure for this. I can’t believe I had almost forgotten. Thank you :)

    Like

  5. Reblogged, and commented:
    Once in a while I come across a posting that is worth sharing. The writing by James Radcliffe below definitely fits that category.

    Like

  6. I have to show this piece at work…
    I usually bring a book (a real book) to read during my lunch break. Not a single week goes by without getting the wondering questions of “wow, are you actually reading?!” or “don`t tell me you even take time to read…”

    Reading is nice, so I don`t get why people react to it like a miracle.

    Like

    1. It’s strange, right?
      Maybe some people haven’t experienced how AWESOME reading can be, so they simply don’t know.
      Either way, I am glad for you that you DO. ;-)
      Thanks for shouting out,
      – J

      Like

  7. Fantastic post, James! I agree with all of the reasons we should read more. My personal fav? ‘It is a beautiful, boundless, and infinitely pleasurable’. Couldn’t have said it better!

    Like

  8. Hey, James! “The Oddity Writer” is going to be ending its spring season of writing, and I’m going to be reblogging posts from my oldest followers as a sign of gratitude. I thought this would be good to reblog, but if you want a particular entry reblogged, please let me know.

    Thanks!

    Like

    1. It’s really sweet of you to ask, thankyou so much! ;-)
      Feel free to use anything, just reblog whichever you feel would give the most value to your people,
      I hope you are having a great day,
      – J

      Like

  9. You know ! I avcually think that too but couldnt translate the ideas into real life until you did..thank you. But one thing really bugs me ,i know few people who already read a lot but their minds are still undeveloped!

    Like

    1. You’re very welcome, I am glad you liked it. For the record, I think that what you read is also important, but that is perhaps a subject for a different post.
      Thanks for you feedback, and thanks for stopping by,
      Hope you have a great day.
      – J

      Like

  10. Thank you so much for the reminder. Sometimes even though I make a living with technology, and am posting my comment here – I wish we could as a society just take one giant leap back in time. Where everyone was on their porches and chatting over the fence. Great Blog!

    Like

    1. You are very welcome. ;-) I am glad you liked it.
      Technology can be a double edged sword, it’s true. But it can also be a good augmentation for us I think.
      Either way, I don’t think we’ll ever lose books. For me, they are a peak piece of technology.
      Hope you are well,
      – J

      Like

  11. …if reading is a super power then writing is a meta power…perhaps we are in trouble because READING requires time to assimilate & reflect & critique & IT disallows all the later? :-( …furthet up & further in….^^~~~~

    Like

  12. #6 ! So true. For me the best part of reading is definitely being transported to a universe that you are led to but create yourself. I get the same feeling from songs/albums that capture that intangible something (most recently bon iver, bon iver). In a world where most cant make it through a paragraph long post or have to skip a song on a playlist after 30 seconds, its refreshing to know there are other people out there still paying attention. great post sir.

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot. It means a lot to me.
      I totally agree, I love being transported in that way. It’s a crazy magical thing when you think about it, a bit like dreaming in that, we just take something which is (let’s face it) totally fantastical, and accept it as ‘normal’.
      Thanks a lot for stopping by, it is appreciated,
      – J

      Like

  13. Reblogged this and commented:
    YES! Of course my shameless plug would be to say that email readings encourage this superpower “email readings are a readers reading” but the truth is, I love to read. Always have. AND listen to music. Check out this guy’s album too…

    Like

    1. Hey there, ;-)
      Thanks for reblogging my stuff, it is truly appreciated and I am very glad that you liked it enough to share it with your guys.
      You are very kind. I hope you have a great day,
      Best wishes,
      – J

      Like

  14. This is a marvelous post, James. Reading is one of the great loves of my life and it was the authors of my favorite childhood stories who inspired me to pursue creative writing for myself.

    Like

    1. I am really glad you like it. Means a lot to me.
      I remember seeing a documentary of Roald Dahl’s life when I was smaller. He had a writing shed at the end of the garden with an easy chair and fresh pencils. I remember thinking: ‘that looks like a good life’. ;-)
      More power to you with what you do. Thanks so much for stopping by,
      Have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  15. What a cool post! My favourite point is reading makes you a better writer, so true – even if writing takes up all your time it is so important to find time to read, it always opens your eyes to new ways with words.

    A pleasure to read :)

    Like

    1. Those are some really nice compliments. I appreciate (and agree) with all of them. ;-)
      You are very wise, and I salute you for it.
      In all seriousness, thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment, this brightened my day.
      Be well, always
      – J

      Like

  16. Holy cow! I love this!

    I’m going to share this post on my twitter & FB right now!

    Reading definitely has so many advantages, and it bothers me that so many people really don’t like to do it. I think for most people – it’s really a matter of finding what they “Enjoy” reading as opposed to liking reading or not. I think it’s hard for some people to explore since there’s so much constantly being written.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts with me. I’m definitely going to read your blog more. :P

    Like

    1. Aw, that’s badass cool to hear. ;-)
      Thanks so much, I am always really glad to hear that someone got something or connected with my stuff.
      You are a harbinger of good news.
      Hope your day is proceeding in a civilised way,
      – J

      Like

    1. It is ALL TRUE. ;-)
      Thanks a lot, Oldest Daughter and Red Headed Sister,
      Feel free to let me know which tracks you think are the truest also, ;-)
      Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

    1. Ummm, I have just finished a book on the Stoic school of philosophy, have started ‘Rise of the Superman’ by Steven Kottler, am about halfway thru a few biographies, and am repeatedly and obsessively reading and re-reading Coleman Bark’s translations of Rumi’s poetry.
      I have not heard of your book – I shall check it out,
      Have a great day,
      – J

      Like

      1. Oh yes, Coleman’s translations are the best. The book I am reading is fantasy and if you have any background/interest in Jungian psychology, the notion of archetypes in relation to myth and the formation of reality runs throughout–so that’s especially a cool thing for me (I have that background).

        Like

  17. This is wonderful man. Superb. Many great points that you make here. And end-result…a bloody good piece. Do you write essays? I really think you should. The world has forgotten about essays, but they’re making a significant comeback these days. People want to read things like this… they want a rationale for this and that. Take a jab at it man, I think you may do quite well.
    Anyway, this comment’s purpose was approbation, as it was due. Great Job!

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot brother. That is really, very much appreciated. I am glad you liked it. ;-)
      I have to confess tho, I have not the faintest idea how an essay differs from a blog post… Is there a difference? Would really love to know. If there is, I may well take you up on the advice.
      Thanks a lot for the encouragement. That stuff is golden to me. It really makes a difference.
      Hope you are having a great day man, keep up the awesome,
      – J

      Like

      1. Aah there is not much difference in what you’ve just written and an essay. I was just thinking about you making a more formal attempt and publishing an anthology of some sorts. I haven’t read your other pieces yet but I bet they’ll be just as good.

        You keep up the awesomeness too man!

        Like

  18. I would like to expand a little bit on Point #5. While it’s true that if you watch movies for the sake of entertainment, then yes everything is presented to you.

    Reading will expand the imagination in ways that a movie cannot. If one has maintained the hobby (and habit) of reading, then even going to the movies for a 2 hour (or so) break, one will find the imagination bouncing off in directions that the movie didn’t take. Of the infinite possibilities of where the story could have gone, along with where the writer, director, producer and staff actually did go.

    It is because of reading that one can walk away from a movie and still be entertained by it for hours at a time because the imagination was properly stimulated; both because of the hobby of reading as well as the movie itself.

    A habit that would confound my exes because they didn’t read half as much as I do.

    Like

    1. Hey there,
      thanks for stopping by, and your thoughts on the reading / movie section of my post. Your thoughts are genuinely interesting.
      I am glad you got something from my piece, and have to applaud you for reading a lot.
      Be great today, and go well,
      – J

      Like

  19. James, I have a question which has absolutely nothing to do with this post, really. These photos you take with your funky handwriting: is the wood I see the floorboards? Or is it a table? I always wonder when I see it… Why, though, I am afraid I cannot tell you, because I do not know myself.

    As for the post, how wonderful :P Promoting reading. Fabulous. As a writer and author, I suppose I have no choice but to praise such a thing ;) Reading grants such remarkable freedom, a kind that you can experience in no other way, and fantasy is the King of this freedom. Obviously, I would say such a thing, but still it remains true. Escapism at its best! Your imagination truly can fly with fantasy in a way no other genre allows it to. Fantasy is often deeper, too, and thus allows your mind to experience more to its fullest. Huray for reading, huray for fantasy! ;)

    Thank you for the little mention of Eternal Thread ^^ Inspired by you, dearest (;

    Like

    1. It is my ceiling.
      I have to throw the pieces of paper just right and then scramble for the camera REALLY FAST.
      It takes me MANY DAYS to get a good shot. But I do it, for I am a Committed Artist. ;-)
      I am super glad you liked the post. I thought you would. And people seem to genuinely be digging ‘Eternal Thread’, which, of course, they should, for it is Awesome.
      As always, it is lovely to hear from you,
      Big hug,
      – J

      Like

      1. Gosh, the ceiling? My my, don’t you go through such toils to write a blog post – no wonder it takes you so long ;)

        I enjoy all you write, silly :P

        Well this is always nice to hear!

        I will email you back at some point, I’m just so busy all the time :( And also, the day you sent the email I got like five massive ones on the same day, so it’s taken me a while to get through them. Unfortunately yours was the last on the list. Do not be offended about being the last ;) x

        Like

        1. I am so offended you could cut it.
          I DO go thru toils. Well, not really toils, more like rolling fields of pleasure. Which is actually nothing like toils really. But I do. Kinda…
          In all seriousness, do not stress. I love receiving your missives, and am happy when they come.
          Keep being wonderful,
          – J

          Like

          1. You enjoy yourself SO MUCH it just turns into toil ;)
            Who said I was stressing? ;) I can’t email today ’cause I’m going out -_- But tomorrow, maybe. Just be waiting for it. It’ll come at some point.

            Like

  20. Reblogged this and commented:
    Also reading is sexy and it makes you interesting to talk to. Remember that John Waters quote about going home with someone and if they didn’t have books, not to fuck them? There’s a reason

    Like

  21. Reblogged this and commented:
    Also reading is sexy and it makes you interesting to talk to. Remember that John Waters quote about going home with someone and if they didn’t have books, not to fuck them? There’s a reason

    Like

  22. Reblogged this and commented:
    Brilliant treatise on reading (and a bit on writing) from the uber-talented artist and musician, James Radcliffe. If you’re seeking a creative muse, this is your guy.

    Like

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