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 have a confession to make. When I was a kid, I didn’t like to read. The required reading at school turned me off to reading for pleasure. Now, I love it and my Kindle is my daily companion, but I wish I had read your post years ago,

    By the way, thank you for liking my post!


    1. I also harbour a deep love for my Kindle. ;-)
      I am really glad you liked the post, thankyou very much for taking the time to reach out and tell me.
      Would you like to see something like this every month? I’m deciding whether or not to make it a regular thing.
      Have a good one, and thanks again,
      – J


  2. Really loved this! I really love reading, and I think that it really is something that is important to our lives and has always been. It’s the only constant form of entertainment and storytelling, along with music. Recently I heard that they might be taking the 30 minute-hour format of television and shrinking it down to 5 minutes. It’s crazy that as we become more advanced there is this backslide that comes along with it. I also enjoyed how you referred to God in the female, I thought that was really cool.
    Anyways, look forward to reading more and have an awesome day!


    1. Hey there,
      Thankyou so much for this really in-depth comment. It really made me happy.
      I am very glad you liked the post and agree with you pretty much wholeheartedly. Reading is, I think, crazily underrated for so many different things. It is totally important for us. For something which holds so much potential benefit, underrating it is nuts. ;-)
      Hope you are having a great day,
      – J
      P.S. That TV format fact is insane. I have no idea what to do with it. ;-)


      1. Glad to hear it! And yeah, hopefully it’s a fact that doesn’t come true. Hopefully we can revert positively back to enriching forms of entertainment.
        Looking forward to reading/listening to more of your thoughts:)


  3. As a reader and writer both, I would like to add to your comment about superpowers that are being slowly lost to the ever increasing frantic pace of our daily lives: Writing. Not the short note to your friend, or the longer e-mail to a co-worker, but the longer things like your wonderful posts, or even full length novels. These take immense amounts of concentration, time, and attention spans to accomplish.

    You have a wonderful way of breaking down the opaque and showing their clarity. Thank you for taking the time to do this. It truly provides a light at the end of a very, very dark, long tunnel!


  4. And we can read to know that we are not alone; in what we suffer, in what we celebrate. We write to sound our cry out over the rooftops of the world. We read to hear the return of more than our echo.

    Keep up the good work.


  5. Reblogged this and commented:
    Everything Mr. Radcliffe says about reading is absolutely true…I’ve made reading fiction part of my nighttime ritual and I think better, sleep better, am more creative, and just plain feel better. Reading is the correct answer to asked and unasked questions.


  6. Thanks so much for stopping by and liking my blog post James. I could not agree more about reading being no less than a superpower. Reason #7 especially! The frenetic bouncing is something I see in my students but I also fight that battle myself at times, reminding myself of the need to recenter and use my superpower for good.


  7. You have made quite a few errors in this post as well as your others. It’s also very pretentious, this blog. I most certainly will not be purchasing your ridiculous (if that’s what you call music) album.


  8. I have become angry with the fact that I read so fast that I get bored with common ideas. I find with most mysteries I read the first chapter and then go to the back of the book to find out who the killer is. I did not like the Girl with The Dragon Tat.


  9. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s
    both educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy I stumbled across this in my search for something concerning this.


  10. Your posts are wonderfully concise; in this one, alone, you’ve said more about the vital importance of reading than I’ve seen ever expressed – anywhere! Thank you – also – for visiting & liking my poems about reading in the bath & other things.


  11. That is really fascinating, You are an overly skilled blogger.

    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking extra of your excellent post.
    Also, I have shared your site in my social networks


  12. May I just say what a relief to uncover an individual who actually
    understands what they are discussing on the web.

    You definitely understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    A lot more people ought to look at this and understand this side
    of the story. It’s surprising you’re not more popular since you definitely have the gift.


  13. Thanks for reading my blog post mate. I enjoyed your article on reading and couldn’t agree more…especially if we will undertake to read some of those things that will feed our souls, nurture our spirits and lift our hearts and minds to greater heights….after all, taking the “high road” in life, requires first that we climb :)


  14. Reblogged this and commented:
    In this post I will explain the thinking behind this, and share 7 reasons why you should consider make reading an integral part of your daily life.


  15. James, try this: Sit back in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes. Answer this statement and question sequence:
    “Picture a cat.”
    “Do you have a picture of a cat in mind?”
    “Good. Now make the cat do something and change its colors. You got that?”
    “Now, WHO is looking at the cat? WHO is looking at the picture of the cat?”
    … your answer here…
    “Now, if you were the cat or you were your mind or body, would you be able to see/look at the cat?”
    … your answer here…
    “Thank you.”
    (NOTE: If you are not your body, your mind or the pictures in your mind, you must be something else, something immortal and unlimited, yes?)

    Question: When you read a piece or a book’s story that is set in another era, if you get images of that time, beyond those written by the author, WHY do you get them, if you are not immortal?)


  16. Just started reading a lot more than I have in the past and I agree 100 percent. I have to write in extremely loud and distracting environments. Since I’ve taken time to read more, it allows me to equip that same focus when I need to get words down.


      1. Hope that means you don’t mind me sharing a link to it on my site, too? If you do, I’ll delete it but I think it is so true I wanted others to have the opportunity to read it :)


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