The Value of a Reading Life

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any than of a book!” Jane Austen

Growing up without any siblings at home was a lonely life.  I loved all my siblings, but they were much older than I and had left our house long before I had begun to know the beauty and value of brothers and sisters.  Instead of siblings, I had books.  Lots and lots of books. I loved those books and looked upon them as friends.  Indeed the characters in my favorite stories were better, more intimate friends than real friends.  I had quite the library before I even started to school.  I know I must have learned to read at a very early age because I do not recall learning to read at all.  I’ve only known that I’ve read all my life.  When I would visit my siblings at their houses, I would see my old childhood friends on the shelves of their children’s bedrooms and I would want to gather those books and take them back home.  My mother would remind me that I was too old for those books and that my nieces and nephews would now be able to enjoy them.  I sincerely doubted her thinking. How is one too too old for such books? Too old for Dr. Suess? Charlotte’s Web? The Golden Book of Bible Stories? No, I was sure that I would never be too old for my dear, old companions.  I grew up reading past my bedtime as I am sure many of you have.  I never had to be told to go to bed because I knew there was a stack of books waiting for me to read before going to sleep. Anne of Green Gables, Black Velvet, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Secret Garden and many more were the constant companions of my youth. I was never without a book and therefore never without company.  When I think about the impact of reading on my life, I am certain that I am a very different person than I would have been otherwise.  I think about the places I visited through books: Arabia through One Thousand and One Nights, London through Mary Poppins, mysterious islands through the travels of Robinson Crusoe, Prince Edward Island through Anne of Green Gables and many, many more delightful adventures.  I have made it a daily habit to read for at least 2-3 hours each day.  I usually wake up around 5:00 am and read for 2 hours before my day begins.  Then I try to get in an hour or so midday and then finish off the day with reading just before bed for 1-2 hours.  If I’m close to finishing a book, I will most definitely read till the wee hours of the morning.  When I think about the benefits of a reading life I think about the ways books have changed my life. 1. Books have made me a much more empathetic person.  When we encounter characters in a book who are different than we are, who have different experiences than our own, it moves us to see life from another’s perspective. It invites us into another world where we get to experience all the character has gone through and how those experiences shaped them.  It grows our sense of compassion for those walking a different path than our own. 2. Reading often helps me to unwind, forget the mundane in life.  I am invited into another world, allowed to travel through space and time to experience events I would never have known otherwise.  History books can only teach us about dates and dead men. Historical fiction and biographies and autobiographies invite us to experience history, not just read about.  I know I felt like was living in the attic with Anne Frank as she desperately tried to outlive the Nazis. My small world suddenly expands to include people and places I would never known otherwise. I forget about my problems and the stress of daily life for however long I am engrossed in a book.  3. Reading is a great way to build one’s vocabulary and spelling.  It’s much easier to learn vocabulary from a book than from simply memorizing a list of words.  That is why reading 18th and 19th century literature is the best way to study for the SAT and ACT tests.  4. Reading always improves my mood.  When I am depressed or worried or anxious, I can pick up a book and find a ready escape.  I can go to Scotland with Sir Walter  Scott and live once again through the adventures of King Richard the Lionheart or to any number of other places around the world.  I am transported to another place and time and the problems that seem large and looming suddenly disappear.  5. Reading improves our brains! When we read we are creating neural pathways that actually strengthen our brains. By strengthening these neural pathways and creating new synapses, we are improving our short term and long term memory functions. Reading can even help decrease our odds of Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits of reading are too many to do justice in one blog post. I hope in our time together through Other Eden we can share our favorite books, the lessons we learned and why there are certain books we are willing to read over and over again.  I am convinced that the pathway toward a true, good and beautiful life starts ands with good books. 

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