travels of reading part 1




This is partially a rant about people who don’t take advantage of the opportunities reading provides … and partially simply a plea for people to read as often as they can.


Let me begin with the traveling ‘thing’ I mention upfront.

I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have had the opportunity to travel different parts of the globe.

And experience lots of things. And see many different things.


But even with that.


I tend to believe books and reading have offered the best travels I have ever experienced.

Yeah. I do love reading and I believe reading books really is like traveling.



Traveling to places … new and known.

To thoughts … new and known.

To others minds and how they think … and what they think about.

To other types of thinking. To fresh ideas.


It is an absolute fact that everyone has the opportunity to see so many things through reading.



And imagine things limited only by the boundaries of your own imagination and vision.


And experience thinking and ideas and combinations of words that energize the mind and the heart and the soul.


Reading just gets you … well … thinking. Just thinking about things.


As we read I believe all of us have found those ‘moments’ in books.


book stack

There are those moments when you actually traveled through a slice of someone else’s life … living it word by word.



As I typed that … I remember I was fortunate to be given a proofers copy of The Horse Whisperer and asked my opinion of the book before it was ever published.

I know I gave it a great review.


And I believe the book made me cry in the first 50 pages <which may be one of the most heart wrenching tangled emotional ‘stepping into a moment’ sections of a book I have ever encountered>.


That is an example of traveling through someone else’s life experience.


You travel through their experience and feel it … right in your gut.


You live it.

You get so close to the moment through the words you feel like you have traveled right into the moment that you are experiencing it.


I find the same (but different) feeling when I read The Economist <so it does not have to be novels>.






Anyone who reads knows about the moments when you come across a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things that maybe you’d thought before … and it was lurking in your own mind … and it appears on a page articulated by by someone else, someone you’ve never met, maybe even someone long passed.



It’s as if someone has heard your thought and knew you couldn’t figure out a way to put it in words and has traveled to you through this book to say “here it is, worry no more, for now you know what it is.”



And, of course, <because I am consistent on this issue and I am who I am> reading is an easy path to knowledge … any kind of knowledge <factual, historical, metaphorical>.



Of course you can gain knowledge through experience, or discussion, or other paths … but reading is so freely available and simple to do that it can only be deemed a great failure to anyone who doesn’t encourage it as a core activity for any and all of us. It imagine I consider it a failure because, to me, reading is a privilege.



I do know I would like to see America become a place that’s proud of intellectual curiosity.

But I fear too often intellectual curiosity is belittled by people whose idea of culture is determined by television or People-type magazines or internet blogs.


reading cracking open a bookYou would like to think that knowledge should be a lifelong goal and not something satisfied by high school mandatory reading lists or four years of college … but rather a lifetime of reading.



Here is the issue <ok. some issues>.




Some statistics which are disturbing <at least to me they are>.



–          58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.

–          42% of college graduates never read another book.

–          80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.

–          70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.





Did you know that there are approximately 30 million adults in the U.S. who can’t read?





THAT last one sends a shiver down my spine.

Well … honestly I am not sure which factoids bothered me the most … the ones where people know how to read and choose to not read or the people who do not even have the ability to read.

Pick your poison.



While I would like to think most people would like to read <like I do> I imagine I also assume they can actually read <bad assumption it seems>.





Look at number 2 on the list.


80% of families did not buy or read a book.


80 frickin’ percent.





What happens to us <from childhood where we seem to have endless supplies of books to read>?


I do know that one of my favorite childhood memories is “reading” The Hobbit.





I didn’t read it. It was read to me. Our teacher read it to us in installments in elementary school in ‘reading time.’


Afterwards? I couldn’t wait to get my own hands on it and read it myself.



Since then I have read it and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy <plus the Hobbit> maybe 10 times. I have no idea at what age was my first time reading it … but it has to be very young. tolkein not all who

I remember being fascinated, excited and impatient waiting for the next chapter to unfold.  I created pictures in my mind at each reading and the next day another picture would be drawn.






Let’s be clear. I am not suggesting everyone love reading as much as I do.



I am simply suggesting it is good to understand that what reading has to offer is important <so at least you recognize the choice>.


Not everyone can physically travel … and books not only give someone an opportunity to travel anywhere in the ‘now’ but they give you an opportunity to travel through time … and see ideas past, present and future.





I know reading books certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on becoming “smart.” Smart can be found anywhere in the written world.


I’ve read some amazing stuff online, and I’ve read amazingly written thought provoking newspaper articles <not in local papers but maybe the NY Times or The Guardian>. And I do think staying open to new media is a key sign of intellectual curiosity.



In any case, I don’t know if people who don’t read lack intellectual curiosity. I think there can be other ways to satisfy intellectual curiosity <particularly in today’s web crazy world>.



But I do think if you don’t read you can find yourself with a lack of ability to think in the abstract and the potential. And that is a nice ability for lifelong learning and self improvement <adapting to Life>.



You may have heard the term “lifelong learning.”



Though learning begins when we are children … education is truly a never ending process <and reading can play an important part of learning for everyone>. Reading can not only keep us informed about the world around us but it also provides intellectual stimulation and helps keep us mentally sharp.



Research has shown that reading offers benefits not found in more “passive” media.



It gives the brain a much better workout than does watching television. When we watch TV, we take in the information in a passive way. But reading allows the mind to:


  • pause, reflect, think
  • operate more actively
  • use intellect and emotion together
  • develop a longer attention span.






And on that last bullet point.


To those of you who may say “I don’t have the attention span to read.”





I am calling ‘bullshit’ on that.


There ain’t anyone out there who has a shorter attention span than I do. I have the attention span of a gnat. And still a book can suck me in to a place where it doesn’t become about ‘attention’ any more but rather ‘involvement.’






Regardless of all my own personal ramblings on the greatness of reading there are some actual studies <if you doubt that this whole reading is traveling thing is really for you>.

–          Carnegie Mellon scientists discovered that the volume of brain white matter in the language area of the brain increased after study participants followed a six-month daily reading program. The Carnegie Mellon study proved that the brain structure can be improved by training poor readers to become better readers.

–          In 2009, Mayo Clinic conducted a Study of Aging that offered some good news for middle-aged and senior adults. Reading a book and other cognitive activities could decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


This suggests we should assume the brain is like a muscle.


Studies prove that exercising it and stimulating it makes it stronger. Reading stimulates brain activity. Reading a variety of “things” (blogs, books, newspapers, etc.) challenges the brain to think in new directions and absorb new concepts and information.


And children?



Children benefit from reading on many levels. Parents actively stimulate their child’s brain by sharing a reading time with them. Interactive reading time creates a shared bond between parent and child along with provoking a child’s natural curiosity about the world and environment.



Giving a child a chance to ask questions, express an interest in a particular topic, and hear new vocabulary and ideas forms a positive impression on a child that lasts a lifetime. Children with poor reading skills have a tendency to feel more anxious and sad (that comes from a study but I lost the source).


Reading also means we are in more control of how we learn and absorb different ideas. We can skim over portions that interest us less, move backwards and forwards, reread and, as in my case, make notes or write spectacularly articulated things down.



Reading helps keep us oriented and engaged.


Science, history, biographies, self help, religion, philosophy … the list is really endless … all make our ‘world’ a little more ‘full’ (but it is a glass that can never actually be completely filled) with each book we read.



I left this last thought to the end because people who haven’t really figured out how to enjoy reading don’t “get” this next thing I am gonna say.


There is an amazing pleasure to sitting down with a good book. It’s kind of like traveling to anywhere in the world <imagined or real> without leaving the comfort of our own chair.

We can visit a fantasy realm with JRR Tolkien, or the American West with Louis L’Amour, or solve a mystery with Sherlock Holmes or see the intricacies of war with Tom Clancy <that list could truly go on and on>.





In the end.


Some people will never ever be interested in learning unless dragged, kicking and screaming.


My biggest hope is that we adults <the ones who don’t like reading> don’t hinder our kids natural curiosity about the world and still encourage them to read <unfortunately … kids typically do as they see … so  … if they don’t see you read they don’t feel compelled to read>.


I do know that I will never quit trying to give everyone the opportunity to love reading and knowledge and encouraging curiosity.






Because not all of us have the privilege to travel.


And books give everyone the privilege to travel.


Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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Written by Bruce