The value of reading

by look i have opinions

Apparently, “Read a book!” continues to be a popular cliché piece of advice. It means something like “Improve your mind!” and possibly “Improve your life situation!” This is the kind of advice that makes me roll my eyes every time I hear it.

Why this cargo-cultish preoccupation with books? Nobody ever uses that preaching tone to say, “Watch a movie!” “Play a video game!” “Consume media of some kind!” It’s even become routine to defend bad books by saying, “At least people are reading,”—as though reading a bad book were better than reading a good Facebook status. Maybe in previous generations, reading a book was, in itself, a shortcut to social mobility. Today that seems laughable.

But it occurred to me recently that I’m probably approaching the issue from the wrong end. For me, reading is nearly effortless. The skill involved is something I take for granted. It’s possible that for somebody else, reading a book means altering their state of mind, focusing in an unaccustomed way, forging new mental connections. It’s possible that that experience actually does improve people’s lives in a way that other media don’t. It’s possible I am a cranky out-of-touch snob. These things happen.

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