Reading is an essential part of the human experience. For some, learning to read is a strong, important memory from childhood. The moment when all of those intelligible scribbles come together and form a coherent thought is an incredible one. Almost all activities of daily living today require reading. People read road signs, advertisements, social media pages, and computer screens every single day, however not very many people read a book for pleasure. For some, reading for pleasure is one of the most pleasurable things to do. Some also have taken to reading as a child and loved it ever since, but for others, reading is not very enjoyable because they struggle with the process and feel more frustration than enjoyment. Others are completely illiterate and manage to live their lives without knowing how to read. Research proves that sitting with a book and reading it from cover to cover for pleasure is extraordinarily beneficial to the brain, with several therapeutic and stress-relieving benefits.
The Psychology of Reading
There is a wealth of research completed on the psychology of reading and forming the perfect reading educational program based on that psychology. Basic Studies on Reading edited by Harry Levin and Joanna P. Williams is a compilation of studies completed by various psychologists, linguists, and educators that focus on the psychology of reading and the reading process. The reading process is very complicated and there is not a lot of knowledge on the reading process, so the compilation aims to discuss what sort of research on the reading process is conducted (Levin and Williams). The essay in Levin and Williams’s collection “Linguistic Forms and the Process of Reading” by David Reed focuses on the process of reading from a linguistic perspective (19). Reading is defined as interpreting graphic symbols that are “conventionally represented” in a language and identifying linguistic forms through those graphic symbols (Reed 19). Reading a sentence requires the reader to subconsciously identify linguistic facts from the grammar of the sentence, including things such as the subject of the sentence, the tense of the sentence, the direct object and the verb of the sentence, and so on to lead to finding the meaning of the sentence (Reed 21). Linguists break down sentences to find the linguistic elements in the deep structure of the sentence (Reed 20). Reed highlights problems that linguists face in researching the reading There is a wealth of research completed on the psychology of reading and forming the perfect reading educational program based on that psychology. and identifying linguistic forms through those graphic symbols (Reed 19). Reading a sentence requires the reader to subconsciously identify linguistic facts from the sentence, including things such as the subject of the sentence, the tense of the sentence, the direct object and the verb of the sentence, and so on to lead to finding the meaning of the sentence (Reed 21). Linguists break down sentences to find the linguistic elements in the deep structure of the sentence (Reed 20). Reed highlights problems that linguists face in researching the reading process, including how to tell if someone has truly read a sentence, what clues in a written sentence enable a reader to identify linguistic elements in the sentence, and how letters are related to words and grammar and therefore represented in speech through phonics (Reed 22). Linguists in particular try to figure out solutions to those problems in their research into the extraordinarily complicated process of reading.
Reasons to Read
There are many reasons one should read. The reasons for reading can improve a student’s performance in school as well as make someone feel relaxed and rewarded. Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Reasons Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School highlights nine reasons why teachers should encourage reading for pleasure in middle and high schools. The ones relevant for this paper are: reading is rewarding, reading builds an extensive vocabulary, and reading makes you smarter (Gallagher). The reasons for reading highlighted all have their own benefits for ourselves and our lives. In the reading is rewarding section, Gallagher discusses readers love to share great passages and books with other readers to appreciate the beauty and the reward of the passages with one another (20). Reading for pleasure also expands the vocabulary of a reader (Gallagher 20). Being exposed to new words and finding the meaning of those new words promotes one to use the word more often, therefore expanding one’s vocabulary. Benefits of having an expansive vocabulary leads to being more prepared for college and achieving higher scores on the verbal section of the SAT (Gallagher 21). Reading also is proven to make one smarter and remain smart throughout the aging process (Gallagher 26). Reading and being surrounded by good books is correlated with student performance on test scores and student success in school (Gallagher 26). Reading is also an active activity for the brain, and it has already been proven that keeping the brain active throughout old age reduces the chances of Alzheimer’s disease and keeps the brain sharp (Gallagher 27). Gallagher references research studies in his work that suggest reading is one of the best things for keeping the mind sharp and reducing the chances of Alzheimer’s disease (Gallagher 27).
Reading in Pop Culture
Movies About Reading
Not only are there characters who love to read, but there are also movies that are all about the experience of reading. Some examples include Dead Poets Society, The Neverending Story, The Reader, and The Secret of Kells. Dead Poets Society is about a group of students at an all-boys college prep high school who were inspired by their English teacher Mr. Keating to recreate an old school club called the Dead Poets Society who get together to read poetry to gain a new perspective on life and the world around them, much to the chagrin of their parents and the school, who do not approve of Mr. Keating’s teaching methods. The students hide in a secret cave on campus at night and have clandestine readings of poetry, expressing and enjoying themselves, and learning about themselves and the world through reading poetry from dead poets like Walt Whitman both in the cave and in English class. The Neverending Story is about a young, unhappy boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux who finds a way to escape from his unhappiness through the pages of a book. He discovers the magic of reading when he reads The Neverending Story and is transported into the adventure and ends up saving the day in the book through his imagination. It exemplifies the experience of getting lost in world of a story and the characters’ experiences. The Reader is about a lawyer named Michael who has an affair with a train conductor named Hanna before World War Two. Hanna enjoyed stories, but she asked Michael to read to her instead of reading them herself. They lost touch, but years later, Michael and Hanna met again during a trial for war crimes committed during World War Two. Michael discovered Hanna was an SS officer who would order the random killings of prisoners and she would ask them to read to her before she ordered their murder. Michael eventually found out Hanna was illiterate, but she still enjoyed listening to stories. Hanna was found guilty and imprisoned, but Michael reconnected with her and corresponded with her in prison. He sent her stories with recordings of him reading so she can try to follow along and learn to read.The Reader shows that those who cannot read can still reap some of the benefits from reading without physically reading the story. The Secret of Kells is a story about a boy named Brendan who is trying to defend his medieval Irish village from viking attacks and receives the Book of Kells from a master illuminator. The Book of Kells is a secret, magical, unfinished book that holds secret wisdom and powers. Brendan has to embark on a dangerous adventure into the forest to finish the book and discover the secrets the book holds. The Secret of Kells depicts the magic reading books can bring to people.
This is a scene from Dead Poets Society where all of the members of the dead poets society are meeting in a cave to read poetry.
Relating to Parables in Pop Culture
In the book Persepolis, a graphic novel autobiographical memoir of Marjane Satrapi, Marjane depicts her love of reading. Marjane is extremely well-read and her parents encouraged her to read from a young age. Marjane was young during the Iranian revolution in 1979 and her parents wanted Marjane to be well-informed so she can make educated opinions of her own on the events that are occuring during that time around the world and in her home country of Iran.Her parents gave her a collection of books, as depicted in the first frame with Marjane as a child sitting in front of a giant stack of books (Satrapi 12).She read about the Palestinian conflict, the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the Vietnam War, and about movers and shakers in the Iranian revolution (Satrapi 12). She also likes to read works from philosophers such as Marx and Descartes and has referenced reading works from feminists and other philosophers in her work. Reading is sometimes viewed as a search for wisdom, so Marjane is reading all of those works to search for and obtain wisdom through the written word on the world around her.
Fiddes: Reading the World for Meaning
Paul Fiddes discusses reading in his work Seeing the World and Knowing God. He discusses reading in a figurative way; he writes about the theological comparison of God as author and creation as God’s writing and he talks about “reading” the world as a book and looking at signs in the world to obtain meaning and wisdom in our lives. “Reading” the world as a book comes from the “reading” of signs. Semiotics is the study of signs; signs can be things such as social cues, body language, dress, or a shady tweet (Fiddes 270). Theologians consider God as being the author of the signs (Fiddes 270). Previous Judeo-Christian thought indicated that God does not have anything to do those signs because as author, he is separate from the signs (Fiddes 270). Fiddes references Jacques Derrida, a philosopher who believed the world is only meant to distribute (Fiddes 270). Derrida acknowledges the “being” of the sign and the physical form of the sign are separate (Fiddes 271). “Being” is of a separate realm. For Derrida, the being of the sign transcends to interact with the form of the sign through logos, which serves as a mediator in the relationship (Fiddes 271). The meaning of the sign is found through the relationship of the being and the form of the sign with logos (Fiddes 272). This is exemplified through the relationship of the physical world, Jesus Christ, and God. Jesus Christ is considered the logos through which God can transcend into the physical world (Fiddes 271). God is mediated to the physical world through Christ as the son of God (Fiddes 271). Therefore, we find meaning in the relationship of God and the world through Christ as logos.
The world of signs, according to Fiddes, is complicated and elusive (275). Since the world is hidden, we can use simile and metaphor to uncover the world and find meaning within (Fiddes 279). Simile and metaphor enhance reality rather than substitute for reality, therefore simile and metaphor can be used as a tool to bring forth new levels of meaning (Fiddes 279). We use metaphor and simile to talk about God and uncover things about God because literal talk about God is impossible, as he cannot be known like an object in the world (Fiddes 284). God is always present in signs, however he is hidden (Fiddes 285). The signs that we read in our world as traces of God because he is thoroughly present in our lives (Fiddes 298).
Parables: Kierkegaard's "The Lover"
There is a parable about reading written by Kierkegaard called “The Letter.” “The Letter” is about a lover who has received a letter from his girlfriend (Oden 77). The letter is compared to the Word of God (Oden 77). The lover pours over the letter and reads every single word, just as people should read the Word of God (Oden 77). The lover would read with such enthusiasm; he would not want to be interrupted by friends who want to spend time with them (Oden 78). Kierkegaard supposes the letter is written in another language like the Bible originally was and determined the lover would pull out a language dictionary and translate every word with impatience and enthusiasm to see what his beloved has written to him (Oden 77). The lover reads (literally this time) the signs his girlfriend has in her writing to him and he interprets the signs for meaning. Kierkegaard supposes once again the lover’s girlfriend is writing instructions to the lover (Oden 79). The lover was in such a hurry to understand and follow her instructions, he mistranslated and did something different than what his girlfriend wanted him to do (Oden 79). Once he finds out his mistake, the lover probably would not be ashamed of his haste to do something for his girlfriend (Oden 79). His girlfriend probably would not be upset with him either because she knew he put so much effort into translating her letter (Oden 79). He would be praised like a dedicated student who accidentally did too much reading the night before for homework rather than a student who did no reading in favor of spending time with friends (Oden 79). The point of this parable is to say people are supposed to read the Bible with the same enthusiasm and excitement as the lover reads the letter from his girlfriend (Oden 80). Kierkegaard encourages people to pour themselves into the letter, dedicating all of their time to reading God’s word in favor of spending time with friends, and comb God’s word for meaning like the lover translates his girlfriend’s letter.
Kierkegaard’s parable “The Letter” nicely ties in all of the concepts touched on in this work. The lover in “The Letter” reaps some of the mental benefits of reading from reading his girlfriend’s letter. He spends all of his time translating her letter with a language dictionary. It is unclear if he enjoys spending all of his time reading her letter, but he is certainly enthusiastic enough to essentially shoo his friend away so he can be alone with his girlfriend’s letter. “The Letter” also is an example of the concept of semiotics as discussed by Fiddes, particularly when the lover spends all of his time translating her letter. He is reading the signs presented in her writing to find deeper meaning. In this case, he was trying to find the meaning of the words to try and figure out what she wanted him to do for her. “The Letter” also connects the semiotics concept to God and theology by comparing through simile. People are meant to read the Bible and God’s word like the lover reads a letter from his girlfriend. People read the signs in the writing of the Bible and God’s word to gain some insight into the mysteries of God and the world around them.
Reading is an extremely complicated process that is wildly beneficial to our brains. There are many psychological and health benefits of reading, as well as benefits that improve student performance in school and on the SATs. There are many references to reading in pop culture; from characters in popular movie and television shows to entire movies dedicated to the love and the magic of reading. In a theological and philosophical perspective, reading is used in a figurative sense to read signs such as social cues to gain insight into meaning. People read signs in the world to know more about God and the world around them. In conclusion, if one is having trouble coming around to and enjoying reading, one should pick up a book on one’s favorite topic and one would eventually come to see what a wonderful experience reading can be.