WHY READING MATTERS
Written by Doug Ponder on July 24, 2013
A World without Books
Paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, which is precisely why Ray Bradbury’s novel is titled Fahrenheit 451. The book explores a futuristic world without reading. People became ignorant of the past, they were powerless against their oppressors, and they alienated from one another because of their absorption in mass media. And in his day, he only had television and the radio to concern him!
What the author warned against in 1953 is slowly becoming a reality. Recent studies have shown that more than one-in-six children aged eight to sixteen—almost twenty percent—are too embarrassed to be seen reading for fear of being labeled a geek or a nerd. What’s more, the number of children who read at home on a daily basis has fallen more than 30% in the past seven years (this includes reading eBooks).
Does Reading Really Matter?
In a word, yes! Reading matters. It’s not like those vegetables that your mom told you were good for you but you’ve been getting along just fine without. Reading is more like exercise. Indeed, reading is very much like a work out for your brain. Flabby minds work just as poorly as flabby bodies—which is really bad news when you remember that our minds affect virtually everything that we do. In fact, several medical studies have linked reading with good health and a higher quality of life in old age.
Reading doesn’t just affect our physical health, though, it also affects the growth and development of our character. Below you’ll find three areas explaining why reading matters.
Reading Breaks the Spell of Electronics
Technology, by itself, is wonderful. It brings new medical advances, allowing things that once were impossible to become possible. It also makes some things faster, easier, or more affordable. Technological advances are great. But they’re not neutral. There’s no such thing as a neutral gadget. Everything you use also ‘uses’ you back. Study after study have shown the effects that activities like watching television, surfing the internet, scrolling on Facebook or Twitter, and even listening to music have upon our minds. They “train us” to zone out, and over time we lose the ability to focus well, to concentrate for longer periods of time, or even to think clearly.
Reading breaks the spell of electronics. It forces us to focus, to concentrate, and to think. Reading enhances our observational skills, improves our memory, enriches our vocabulary, and sharpens our imaginations. Often reading is fun, but sometimes it isn’t. That’s OK. Reading also disciplines us and reminds us that not all of life is fun 24/7. In fact, the people who seem to fare the worst in the world are those who think that life “should be” fun all the time. (These people are so often selfish and lazy.)
Reading Exposes Our Blindness
Like vehicles on the highway, we all have blind spots. No one can understand themselves completely. This is another reason why reading is so helpful. It forces us to listen to the thoughts of others, which may expose some of the blind spots that we all have.
C. S. Lewis, the a famous Christian author and professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge, not only wrote a lot of books, he also wrote a lot about books too. In his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius, Lewis extolled the virtues of reading—especially old books! He said,
“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. . . . We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected. . . . None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”
Reading modern books of all kinds is tricky business, Lewis points out. For one thing, the classics are the classics because they have stood the test of time. There is a reason that people are still reading the Bible and The Lord of the Rings long after their authors have died. By contrast, only love-starved librarians will even know what Twilight is in fifty years. (It’s that badly written.) But make no mistake: reading no books at all is even worse than only reading bad ones. At least Twilight fans turn off the TV once in a while.
Reading Introduces Us to Jesus
Christians have the greatest motivation to read of all: the Lord Jesus himself. Not only does God command us to read his Word, but we also should want to read it, since it is the book that points us to Jesus. This may be obvious, but if you hadn’t read the Bible (or if it hadn’t been read by someone else to you), then you wouldn’t know who Jesus is. Reading is that important.
But don’t read the Bible only to learn about Jesus. He never intended for you to do that. You should read the Bible to learn from Jesus, for he is your Creator, your Savior, and your Lord—all of which means that he knows how life should go, he has the power to make things right, and he commands you to trust him and to listen to what he says.
In a similar way, reading books like biographies of Christians can also introduce us to other followers of Jesus. These books help us look at our lives in light of theirs: How did they handle suffering? How did they handle criticism? How did they deal with injury or illness? How did they deal with the death of a friend or family member? How did they deal with conflict in their lives? How did they pray through seasons of difficulty? How did they contend with seasons of depression? How did they organize their time and their obligations? In view of all that, how could reading not be helpful?
Put Away Your Excuses
Sometimes people will say, “This is all well and good, but I’m very busy. You see, I want to read. I just don’t have time.” Don’t buy it—even if it’s the lie that you’re trying to sell yourself. There are 168 hours in the week. Take away 56 for sleep (assuming you get a generous 8 hours per night). Then take away 40 hours for your job. That still leaves you with 72 hours—three full days to help around the house, to play tag with your kids, to be involved with your church family, and to read books. You’ve got the time. Start small. Grab a book that you’ve been thinking about reading for a long time but haven’t gotten around to doing so yet. And before you turn on the TV tomorrow, before you mindlessly scroll your Facebook newsfeed, pick up that book and read until your brain creaks. Then do it again tomorrow. Your life will never be the same if you do.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.