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 thoughts on “ Why: Reading is a Modern Superpower… ”

  1. A really good blog (again) James.

    One of your best actually, but that is because it’s about my favourite pastime!

    I love to read and do so daily, cant imagine a day without “cracking open a book”.

    One addition to your list could also be the connection of having that “great conversation” with some of the greatest minds ever. Like you wisely say, there is no new thing under the sun! And chatting about the great ideas, even with minds from antiquity can help us better understand our lives and world in the present.

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much.
      Mine too. I can completely understand where you’re coming from.
      I think that this is a great point, maybe if I ever do a part 2 I’ll include this and give you credit.
      Best wishes as always, have a good one,
      – J


        1. I like a wide variety ;-)
          I go everything from in-depth physics and poetry to really easy fiction. At the moment I am reading: the collected diaries of Thoreau, the 5 books of ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith, A collection of Michael Donnaghy Poetry (again), a biography of Alex Honnold (world famous free solo climber) and easy thriller fiction before sleep. ;-)
          Hope that helps, what are you into right now?
          – J

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Wow you have a lot of books on different subjects on the go at once, cool. I like fiction to sit back and get lost in, psych books and checking out Full Catrophe Living’. I’ve never really been into poetry but my uncle was a poet, maybe should try again

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I really do. I read A LOT so I have to have things that fit different moods. Full catastrophe living is Kabat-Zinn, right?
              If you ever want poetry tips just hit me up ;-)
              Have a good one, and thanks for stopping by,
              – J


    1. This makes me really happy. You have no idea.
      Being a teacher is an awesome job, well done you. And, not for nothing, but I love the name of your blog.
      Feel free to hit me up anytime, and have a good one,
      – J


  2. A great post.
    Yesterday I was supervising the isolation room. A teenage girl was in there for abusive behaviour and she had no work to do. I picked out a book for her and she sat and read for an hour. When I left I said
    “Keep it, read it”
    She said.
    “No. I never read at home”
    I said.
    “You should”
    She’s a nice girl. Maybe at some point she will pick up a book.

    As far as I’m concerned that is our battleground.
    Thank you for liking my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your like on my blog today and loved this piece about reading as a superpower. I was fortunate to see kids feel like superheros as they learned to read in my classroom….pretty exciting thing to witness – magical.


    1. That is really, really beautiful. You are so lucky to be a teacher. ;-)
      You are welcome for the like, keep up the good work; and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to write to me – I truly appreciate it.
      Be well, always,
      – J


  4. James, thanks for liking my post about being so busy. Were you able to watch the video of me and my friend performing our original piece Rainbows? Sometimes it does not work. I took a look at your blog and found this post. I agree totally. Reading makes you better. I want to be a writer and I read all the time. My mom says to learn to write, just read. I thought it was great that you liked my post especially because I am always writing about Scottish characters. Plus a good friend of ours lives near Edinburgh, I am going to tell her to see if she can go hear you perform in person and report back. Oh, and my mom also says that she is going to show your music to her yoga teacher, she says it would be perfect for the classes to work to. Good luck on your work. Oh, and my favorite thing ever is a border collie, also from Scotland, and I have a Shetland Sheepdog now! Bye, Piper


    1. Hey there Piper,
      First, thanks so much for writing to me, I really loved your comment. It’s always nice to hear that someone has connected with something that I make. I did not see the video yet, I am quite busy, but if I get the time I will try and check it out.
      If you want to be a writer, just keep writing, and keep trying to get better. As long as you are improving you are getting closer.
      That’s great to hear about your Mom, tell her she can use any of my music she likes as long as she gives me credit for it.
      I love border collies too – I am actually thinking about getting one.
      Be well my friend, and Good Luck with your writing,
      – J


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