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 must say this is timely. My children’s voracious reading is draining ME of my super powers. As a result tHey are waking up with bags as they’ve been reading after lights out unknown to me. Hence making us late for school run. It’s a good problem eh?

    Like

    1. That is a QUALITY problem. ;-)
      I was the same as a child, (I’m not sure if that will be reassuring or terrifying, either way it’s true). And I still love reading today – I count it as one of the best things in my life. It also made school a breeze (when I got there on time of course).
      Maybe secretly set the clocks 10 mins fast. That was my Ma’s solution. ;-)
      Thanks for getting in touch, I enjoyed your comment, have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  2. Enjoyed reading your post on reading. I agree with you, having grown up with a book-a-holic mother and I;m a 2nd generation book-a-holic myself. Fiction is probably easier on the brain as information overload.

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot, I’m really glad you enjoyed it.
      I know what you mean. For me, it was my grandfather that passed on the love of reading, so I guess I’m also 2nd Gen. ;-)
      Thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

      1. I’m glad that the elders are passing the joys of reading onto us. I can’t imagine a world without books. Of course, I’m an author too so this goes with the territory.

        Like

  3. This post is awesome. I was always a massive reader, then faffing about on the internet got in the way. This year I promised myself I’d read more and it has been wonderful rediscovering my love for books.

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot, I’m glad you liked it.
      I know what you mean, stuff can get in the way. ;-)
      It’s good to occasionally be reminded what’s really important.
      I’m glad you stopped by,
      – J

      Like

    1. Hey there,
      First, thanks for stopping by, it’s a pleasure to connect with you. As you can tell from my post, I totally agree about reading. ;-)
      Keep up the good work my friend,
      – J

      Like

  4. Absolutely. I’m reading two books concurrently and it definitely takes concentration. I always feel sad for people when they say (seemingly proudly) that they don’t read; they’re truly missing out. Great post!

    Like

    1. I generally have more than one thing on the go as well. Different books for different moods / times etc.
      Thanks for stopping by – I’m glad you liked it enough to comment, ;-)
      Be well,
      – J

      Like

  5. Great post – thanks for reading my blog too. I can imagine a world where I didn’t read but it is a frightening and soulless world – it would destroy me I think. I read constantly. I have recently discovered audio books and now I can read whilst I drive – there’s a world of knowledge out there. I’m constantly amazed and saddened when I hear many people proudly state that they’ve never read a book since leaving school. I must have missed the meeting that decided being stupid is the new intelligent. Once again – I loved the post and the mind-set behind it’s creation.

    Like

    1. Thankyou very much, I am really glad you liked it.
      I, also, devour audio books – I agree, there is so much good stuff out there in the world of knowledge!
      Really glad you stopped by and added your thoughts,
      pleased to meet you,
      – J

      Like

  6. Probably gonna push this piece of fine writing in faces of people who say reading is boring, not going to lose these discussions anymore :D

    keep up the writing and thank you so much for stopping by at my blooming blog :) you’re my first liker I won’t forget you anymore now haha!

    -LLW

    Like

  7. Hi, and thanks for liking my division.
    Regarding item #4 I have a weakness for Lamarck and his theory.
    (spelling of Lamarck due to wordpress editor, may be wrong).
    I am joining your long list of followers (I only have 8 so far)

    Like

      1. I find your writing to come from a profound place of sincerity and is positive in an authentic and grounded way. I also liked your song river. The world needs more philosophers willing to travel to distant lands to find the truth within.

        I look forward to what you have to say in the future.

        Like

        1. Thankyou so much.
          I really appreciate the heartfelt nature of your message. This is really special.
          I am glad you liked the writing and the music – makes me happy.
          Have a great day, Mermaid,
          – J

          Like

  8. Yes, yes, yes, 110% YES!! I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post (pun intended!) As a Children’s Librarian (and all around booknerd/lover), I think that reading is not only necessary to build a solid skill set (communication, language development, vocabulary, ect.) but it is good for the soul. Anybody who says they don’t like to read just hasn’t discovered their guilty pleasure yet. I love a book where the story is so good you forget you’re reading. I don’t care what it’s about. If it’s well told and interesting, you got me. The only thing that makes it more perfect is to be in my favorite chair with my feet up and a cup of hot chocolate. But that’s no matter. People read in places like airport terminals and crowded cafeterias all the time. Why? To escape. Wouldn’t you rather be climbing Mt. Everest or fighting off a rogue wave or falling in love with a time traveler? Reading takes you to places you’ve never been before, it allows you to build relationships and fall in love with characters, and let’s your creativity freak flag fly. Reading to me is, well, everything! :)

    Like

    1. …Did you know that Audrey Niffenegger is writing a sequel to ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’? (I am assuming this is the Time Traveller to which you refer…)
      Thanks so much for your comment. I really love that you got something from the post, makes me happy. ;-)
      I agree with pretty much everything you said. (I even like hot chocolate, tho prefer strong black coffee).
      I also love that ‘thing’. Where you stop being aware of the fact that you are reading, and you slipslide into another world. That ‘slipping’, is one of my very favourite things. ;-)
      I am so glad you stopped by. And I am so glad you took the time to write.
      I hope you are having a great day, preferably containing: your chair, book, and hot chocolate. ;-)
      – J

      Like

  9. Thank you James for reading and liking my posts, I just love your blog, I think I could spend a long time reading and re-reading it!! Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    Bleesings!

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot for this. This is a really heartfelt comment and I appreciate it greatly.
      You are fully welcome my friend,
      I hope you are well, and thanks for taking the time to stop by,
      – J

      Like

  10. Reblogged this and commented:
    Nice one about the magic of reading, a bit too rich on adjectives to my taste, but definitely worth perusing!

    Like

  11. WOW this is a wonderful article. Very informative and well written. I love the subtitles, they are so catchy and get the point across without giving it all away.

    Like

  12. Wise words indeed. Lots of people love reading – I wish even more did. It’s so important for the reasons you list, and I think that in this day and age, the last reason you give (i.e. buidling the ability to conentrate and focus) is inreasingly vital.

    Oh, and love the line, ‘like a frog jacked up on amphetamine pills playing hallucinatory lily pad hopscotch whilst on fire.’!

    Like

  13. Hi James,

    Thanks for reading and liking my JAM with Mike posts. This is a fantastic piece you have written here on the exceptional benefits of reading. My life has been filled with all 7 of the benefits you mention and I will never cease my daily joy of reading. I have passed this down to my children and now read regularly to my 2 1/2 year old grandson, starting him on his journey of reading,
    I have read many attempts at explaining the benefits of reading. This post is perhaps one of the, if not THE best I’ve read on the subject. Well done!

    Best,
    Mike

    Like

    1. Hi Mike,
      Wow, that is high praise indeed!
      I am very glad that you got something from the post, and am duly humbled by your words. Thankyou.
      I may be biased, but I think that the joy of reading could perhaps be the greatest gift to pass on to your children and grandchildren. It was my Grandfather who first taught me that reading could be such a pleasure, and I will be forever indebted to him for it.
      Will do my best to check out more of your work.
      Thanks again,
      – J

      Like

  14. Hi James,
    Beautiful words, these♥ And very true, too :)
    Thank you for dropping by my site with your warmth and do take care, too.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, B,
      I am very glad that you liked it. I am quite passionate about the subject ;-) So it wasn’t hard to write about.
      You are very welcome for the drop-by, and likewise to your good self.
      I hope your day is being kind to you,
      – J

      Like

  15. Thanks for liking my latest post.

    I love his post! I grew up going to the library and having to make multiple trips to the car to carry all the books we had checked out. We maxed out our limit at every single weekly visit!

    Reading is a forgotten art that does more to make us human than much else we do, imho. We can absorb more stories and adventures then we could ever accomplish in our lifetime, learn new skills and and just have fun. All you need are books!

    Like

    1. Reading is such a beautiful thing isn’t it? I sometimes feel that it hides, a little way off to the side.
      When you look at a book, it looks like such an ordinary thing, so prosaic. But there are worlds inside!
      How does that happen? ;-)
      Thanks for stopping by, really nice to hear from you.
      – J

      Like

  16. Reading reason #5 reminded me of a quote I read recently about writing, but which can certainly be applied to reading as well: “Writing is a matter of wakeful dreaming” – Edna O’Brien. This post is infused with your passion for reading. It always makes me happy to bear witness to people’s enthusiasm for reading and books.

    Like

    1. Thankyou. ;-)
      You obviously really understood what I was saying, and you are right, I have a passion for reading that borders on zealotry. ;-)
      Thankyou for stopping by, I hop you have a really great day,
      – J

      Like

  17. Thanks for liking my post. I love your post. I suffer with depression sometimes and feel that reading is the only thing that helps me to escape so I couldn’t agree with your points more, reading is the best form of therapy around

    Like

    1. Hey there, ;-)
      Thanks so much for stopping by and reaching out. I am really glad to meet you, and couldn’t agree with you more. Reading can be so many things, and they are pretty much all good things too. I am glad it helps you out when you need it.
      I hope your day is good,
      Big hug,
      – J

      Like

  18. Totally profound and inspiring. So many times in your post, you say what I have thought about reading. You did me a favor by putting those understandings into words the way you do.

    Number 2 is especially moving because I’ve found this to be true lately more than ever. As it goes, “there’s nothing new under the Sun.”

    I will link your post to my Google+ page and eagerly await your next post.

    Thank you for your message about my blog.

    Like

    1. Thankyou in return. I am very humbled by your praise. ;-)
      I am glad that you like the post, I really love reading so it was very easy to write for me – in fact, the harder thing was to stop at 7 reasons, I’m not sure it would have been so well received if it had been called: ‘A baJILLION reasons that reading is AWESOME!’. ;-)
      Really glad you stopped by, and you’re fully welcome for the message,
      See you,
      – J

      Like

    1. Thanks in return, and you are fully welcome. I also read 365 days a year.
      It is one of the coolest things in the world.
      Glad to connect with you, fellow reader, ;-)
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  19. Hi J,
    I enjoyed this article a lot… you have so much depth and perspective and you have made me think… I enjoy reading and for quiet sometime I had let it go…but now I am back and I feel and experience everything you have said in your article by just reading books… you are indeed awesome and keep them coming!!
    -Abigail

    Like

    1. Abigail, you are so sweet! ;-)
      Thanks a load for this, really made me happy to read it – I am very glad that you liked it.
      I will totally keep them coming, just for you. ;-)
      – J

      Like

  20. Reading opens the doors to a magical world as all book lovers will testify. It is great to be reminded of the perks of reading again in the digital age. Thank you for your inspiring posts and music. We had to nominate you for the Most Influential Blogger Award!

    Like

    1. Aw! You are so sweet. Thankyou very much for the nomination, I am honored. *is honored* ;-)
      I couldn’t agree more about reading opening the door to a magical world – you are totally right!
      Thanks for stopping by, I really appreciate it.
      Be well, and have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  21. Thanks for this, and for liking my post. I think I have read more in the past 2 years than ever in my life and I can honestly say I am happier for it. It has inspired me to write again, paint again and simply indulge again. I am an actor as well and like performing, as you said, it allows us to live a multitude of lives….why would we ever not do that?! I also read “eternal thread”, thanks for sharing, she has such an interesting voice.

    Like

    1. ‘Eternal Thread’ is totally cool, isn’t it? ;-)
      Yeah, I can’t say enough good things about reading. It is an awesome pleasure to be sure. ;-)
      Thanks for stopping by, s’nice to meet you. Good fortune to you in all you do,
      – J

      Like

  22. One can only pity those who do not read. Some even seem to be proud that they do not. If you accept the notion that there is always time to do the things we want to do, having no time to read is a really lame excuse.

    Like

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your point of view, it is much appreciated.
      I agree that you can always find time for things that you feel are truly important. This is definitely a crucial thing to know!
      Hope you are having a great day,
      – J

      Like

  23. Reading turns your mind into a sponge. But I don’t mean a dirty old spaghetti sauce covered kitchen sponge. Rather a soft, all absorbing self-fulfilling inventive sponge. Information and imagination molding waves of endless energy into existence.
    Thanks for the important reminder. Words are fuel.

    Like

  24. WHAT you read is more important than HOW MUCH you read and I have found that reading through verbosity does not help my concentration but hinders it. Lately I scan headlines and article titles and quickly determine whether it will be worth my precious time to indulge. Best wishes. Uldis

    Like

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