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.


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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. 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

  1. 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!

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  2. 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.

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    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

  3. 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 (;

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    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

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        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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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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