Why read?

I have been harping on about the importance of reading. Today I look in more detail at why we should read, what possible benefits there are of reading, especially as adults.

Readers find meaning through the written word, be it a poem or story (or anything form of writing for that matter). While this sounds obvious, it is anything but, any number of theorist who have speculated about language and the reading process will tell you this in mind-numbing detail (unless, like me, you’re a bit of a nerd and like this kind of thing).

Let me put it to you this way: does a tree falling in the forest make any noise if none are there to hear it? Of course it does! The same idea could be applied to literature. Do words and books have meaning if no one is reading them? Obviously they do, but the meaning within these books is waiting, dormant, ready to spring to life within the reader. Is the meaning of one book the same for all those who read it?

I guess as a writer, that is the really interesting thing, you can spend months, years on a piece of work and have a pretty good idea of what you think it is about, what it means; but put it in the hands of a reader and new life is breathed into it, life the writer could never have dreamed of.

Reading, therefore, is an act of creation, an internal performance. Meaning is created through the process of reading in much the same way that music is created, not by the instrument maker, but by the musician. The writer may have done a nice job with character, plot, setting, and an interesting turn of phrase, etc., but the reader gets to create a whole new story! Reading is empowerment.

Literary theorist, Wolfgang Iser said, “The significance of the work…does not lie in the meaning sealed within the text, but in the fact that the meaning brings out what had been previously sealed within us….we actually participate in the text, and this means that we are caught up in the very thing we are producing. This is why we often have the impression, as we read, that we are living another life.”

If you have children, or you had English teachers who banged on about it, you will know the benefits of reading. You only have to Google the topic to quickly find reasons: your reading will improve, you will broaden your vocabulary, comprehension and grammar, you will be more successful in education, even your emotional and social behavior will benefit. But what are the benefits of continuing reading into adulthood?

Author, Angela Carter said, “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.”

Apart from being satisfying entertainment to read a good book, by seeing the letters, understanding the words, comprehending the meaning and engaging your imagination, readers not only keep their brains active but also build their ability to concentrate. Readers gain insight into new ways of living, of knew knowledge, of other cultures and the difference and similarities of these – they get to step into the shoes of others and in this way can learn tolerance, acceptance. By learning about the situations and problems of others, readers are better able to deal with those arising in their own lives because they’ve already had a practice run of a kind in their minds. Through reading, readers get to, privately, try out new ideas and ways of thinking, developing their own confidence before turning their new found theories onto the rest of the world. Reading also readers more reflective time and this helps them relax. Open Education Database explain, on their website, ten things that happen in our brains when we read. 

Marcel Proust said, “Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.”

Here’s a final note for writers: reading, because of all of the things mentioned above, can improve your writing, and so, as I, and many hundreds of others before me, have said, writers should also be readers.

In the words of author, Jeanette Winterson, “Writing should be personal but not insular. If we are not readers we cannot be writers. Reading widely is necessary.”

What are you waiting for, hop to it…grab a book!


Iser W., The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1978.

Open Education Database, Your Brain on Books: 10 Things That Happen in Our Minds When we Read, 16January 2013, < http://oedb.org/library/beginning-online-learning/your-brain-on-books-10-things-that-happen-to-our-minds-when-we-read> accessed 18 February 2013.

Robeck M. and Wallace R. R., The Psychology of Reading: An Interdisciplinary Approach. 2nd ed., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Hillside, 1990.

Winterson J., Jeanette Winterson: teaching creative writing, The Guardian, 18 May 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/may/18/jeanette-winterson-teaching-creative-writing>, accessed 17 February 2013.

Follow me

1 thought on “Why read?

  1. Pingback: Top Posts of 2013 :: Shel SweeneyShel Sweeney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *