Picture yourself on a quiet weekend afternoon. You have nothing but free time on your hands. What do you do? Do you jump online, browse through your social networks and hope to find something interesting and new? Do you try out some movie trailers on YouTube?
Or…do you crack open a novel and get lost in a far-away world, using your imagination and the author’s story to take you to places you would never otherwise come to know?
With today’s technology and ever-expanding access to digital media, reading in general is becoming rarer, especially among young adults. Even with the advent of e-books, the percentage of those age 18 and up who have not read a single book over the course of a year has actually risen from 16 percent to 19 percent since 2005, according to a study published last year.
Some have theorized that the way our society tells its stories —and records its histories—is drifting more and more away from the written word and more toward the digital screen. However, while all forms of media have their merit, reading has been proven to offer benefits that other forms of entertainment and learning just can’t offer. Reading stimulates your mind, because even though the author gives you the words and the dialogue, you must use your imagination to visualize the characters and what they do. Even biographies and other non-fiction works require memorization of details and a mental ideation of the events and people involved. Studies have shown that these mental exercises ward off ills like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.
Depending on what you’re reading, most likely your vocabulary will be expanded, and as long as the writing is edited text, your grammar will improve. Not only is reading a great way to learn a foreign language, but it’s a great way to retain it as well. Translators know that reading in their native language on a consistent basis is essential to keeping their literary skills sharp, and that being an avid reader is simply a part of their job.
You’ll also gain knowledge about whatever topics you desire, whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction. Reading a classic like Johnny Tremain will bring you into the world of the American Revolution; books by Cormac McCarthy will teach you about life on the US-Mexico border; Into the Wild will bring you out on the Alaskan landscape. Even for the books that have a film version, the book will include a great deal of details about people, places, things, and events that are skipped over in the movie. Who wants the cheapened version? Read the book!
Overall, reading makes you smarter. It makes you a better problem solver, it improves your memory, it makes you more well-rounded, and it can even improve your mood. Studies have shown that fiction in particular can also make you more empathetic, and have better social perception and emotional intelligence. So while not all books are created equal, there’s a good chance that if you’re not reading often, you’re missing out on some really great benefits. So go to your local library, or download a book from the Internet, and lose yourself in a good book!