101 Reasons to Read By Sania Choudhary

Illustration By Aden Walsey

She walks into the cafe with a purpose. She takes her coffee and settles at the nearest table. She crosses her legs and pulls out an old treasure. As she searches for her place in this world, her eyes become blind but to the sprawled ink, her ears deaf but to the flipping pages. She takes a deep breath. She is ready for an adventure. She turns the page and dives in...

Reading has been practiced for over 5,000 years, with the earliest known written communication dating back to around 3400 B.C. The oldest known pieces of written literature, markings on clay tablets, were found in ancient Mesopotamia and made by the Sumerian civilization. The first known books appeared in Rome in around 23 B.C. as well as in the Middle East and Asian countries during that same time. While their texts had previously only consisted of economic and administrative documents, now they contained hymns, poetry, myths and stories. Literature developed at staggering rates around the globe and served as a representation of the different cultures and stories of peoples. The ability to read and write was known only by a select few in the beginning, and books were expensive and rare. The printing press of the 15th century changed this and made books cheaper and therefore more common, causing literacy rates to rise. Reading then transformed into a recreational pastime for people, a way in which it still functions today.

I mean who would even want to pick up a book anyways, right? Wrong.

Today, however, reading is on a decline, particularly literary reading, which doesn’t include reading text messages, or tweets, or religions texts, or news, etc. Literary reading only refers to the reading of books that fall under the genre of fiction.

Literacy rates have been steadily decreasing, with the most immense drops occurring after the 1980s. Fewer and fewer people are picking up novels and reading. More people spend an increasing amount of time at work, allowing less time to remain available for personal activities. There are now also a wider variety of personal activities that can come across as more enjoyable and easier than reading which consume our time in ways that weren’t possible before. This includes television, gaming, scrolling through social media, and in general engaging in busier work and social lives. After coming home from a long day of work and flopping onto the nearest couch, which option seems more appealing: picking up the remote and flicking on the TV or picking up a novel and reading? It’s okay, you can be honest. Even as an avid reader, I’d probably have the same answer as you. It’s no secret that reading is tough: it requires time, patience, and brainpower. And when there are so many other options in today’s world, then why choose reading at all.

This leads to the question of is reading even something worth protecting? Or is it just another wave of history that peaked during its time but is now shrinking back into just being another part of the vast sea? With so many new ways of spending our leisure time, can reading really compare? I mean who would even want to pick up a book anyways, right? Wrong.

“Reading is not a skill that we’re born with. It’s something that we’ve painstakingly developed as a human civilization and it’s a tragedy and a huge shift in culture that we’re losing that now. It’s a core part of what’s driven civilization forward, it’s made us who we are today, and losing that is resulting in shallower existence. If more people took time to read entire books, we would have a more thoughtful and empathetic society."

-English teacher Sabrina Strand

Photo by Sania Choudhary

Through improving critical thinking, reading keeps the mind sharp. It also expands our vocabulary. Reading additionally improves our memory, increases our attention span, and bolsters our concentration. Reading also improves our writing skills; the best writers are all readers. A study done by Sam Houston State University showed that pleasure reading amongst teens in high school improved grades in all subjects, particularly those in history, math and science. Another study published by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health showed that engaging in more reading was associated with a lower subsequent risk of incident dementia.

Reading’s benefits don’t just stop there. Reading is a great method to de-stress. A study done by the University of Sussex showed that reading can reduce stress by up to 68% and that people just need to read for six minutes to slow down their heart rates and reduce muscle tension. It also expands our minds by introducing us to a whirlwind of new ideas and opening up our imagination and therefore creativity. Reading allows us to see the world from different perspectives, through different lenses that aren’t our own, giving us a bigger view of what’s around us. This leads to an increase in our empathy, because we are exposed to all the different emotions that the characters on the pages feel and are forced to understand their situations from their perspectives. This makes readers more aware of how different things affect those around them and makes readers more willing to understand others’ perspectives.

“It feeds our soul. Some people love to eat and they love food, but even if you don’t love food, it nourishes you, you need food. We need stories. It’s something, more than ever, that we really need. It’s amazing how people who are successful in so many fields or so many different areas of life, contributed to reading. It is so powerful. When people don’t realize that, I love when they discover that.”

-English teacher Cheryl Zepp

Photo by Sania Choudhary

I used to believe that all literature novels were true stories from different realms and that each of those people experiencing those stories would choose a human on Earth and give that human the purpose of telling their story. That’s what I believed writers were – the chosen people.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, and before I could read, my parents would read to me and tell me stories every night. When I was a baby, my favorite stories were those about animals. As I entered elementary school, my favorite books became those of realistic fiction and fantasy, and typically with characters in their early teen years. When I entered middle school, I started liking young adult fiction. And now, as a high schooler, I like to alternate between young adult and adult fiction. For me, reading serves many purposes. It is a way for me to relax, a way for me to connect with different people both in and out of books, and a way for me to gain a better understanding and a wider perspective of the world around me. When I read, I am able to go into another world. I am able to see from eyes that aren’t mine, go to places that aren’t near me, learn about cultures I otherwise wouldn’t have known, and meet people that in their own way change me. To me, this is one of the most exciting abilities that we have been given and is the reason I became such an avid reader.

I have a habit of starting multiple books, up to five or more, at the same time. Though I don’t do this so much anymore, when I was younger I remember taking all the books that I would be reading with me even as we would go out for a quick drive to the grocery store. My reasoning was that I didn’t know what world I would feel like entering, whether it was the world of the twins that switched places in middle school or the outspoken girl who got married to the prince or the magicians secretly in love given the role of running a circus. So, I would take them all.

“The only place where you have infinite power, you can stop time, you can raise the dead, you can change history, is in your imagination. Nothing you can do in the world will match what you can do in your head. Reading is the same thing. Talk about living infinite lives, feeling infinite emotions. You are literally privy to someone else’s mind. That is so incredibly powerful. You can travel, you can be a different religion, you can be a different race, you can be a different gender. It’s the most transformative place in the world, period, done. It’s endless worlds. It’s the eternal in life.”

- English teacher Patricia Carleton

Illustration by Sania Choudhary

My dad once told me that reading is the closest thing to looking into someone else’s mind, and the more I read, the more I see what he means. Being exposed to every thought of a character, to be able to see exactly what goes on in their head as they confront different situations, creates an intimate relationship between that character and the reader that is difficult to make between two real people. I sometimes understand the characters in the books that I read more than I understand the people around me, and the characters I meet in books can, in turn, sometimes make me feel more understood than any real person ever could. Someone can tell me that they understand how I’m feeling, but no one can take me into their minds and really show me. No one but the characters in books can.

I do believe that to a certain degree, we are all alone. Not necessarily that we are lonely, but that it is impossible to ever completely understand a person outside of ourselves, to see everything they’ve seen and to feel everything they’ve felt. I also believe that we all have a subconscious hunger to be understood, to have someone show us that we aren’t the only ones that get butterflies in our stomachs or have tears roll down our faces or have our hearts race, to have someone not only tell us, but to really show us that they’ve been through it too. And there’s nothing that can satiate that need like reading can. As I grew up, my feelings and life situations changed, and the things that I wanted to feel understood for changed.

Reading encouraged me to take the time to listen to stories of those around me and to really try to understand them. And somehow, through taking the time to deeply understand others, it also helped me better understand myself.

But because there’s such a vast collection of literary works, so many different stories of people that have been through multitudes of various experiences, I have always managed to find one that makes me feel understood. Reading allowed me to better understand my own thoughts and emotions in a way that I couldn’t have explained to myself, and it also exposed me to emotions I have never before felt or thoughts I would have never had.

I remember that when I was in elementary school, my favorite books to read were about characters that were in middle school. This was because, as any third grader might agree, middle schoolers just seemed cooler. I wanted to be one. And the only way for me to get an idea of what it was like was to read about it. My favorite parts were about the schedules with all the different classrooms and also the idea of lockers. In a way, those books prepared me for middle school more than anything else. I remember being so inspired by the characters that I would even try dressing like how their outfits were described in the books, or sometimes try talking the same way, or sometimes even trying the same things they did with their friends with my own. In one of my favorite books from when I was younger, the main character and her best friend had a journal in which one friend would write every night and then they would switch off the next day. It was a safe place for them to rant and talk about their feelings in their own comfort. I remember telling one of my close friends about the idea after I read it, and our little journal eventually became one of our shared treasures. When I entered middle school, I shifted to liking books about older teens and high schoolers more, maybe because I was already experiencing what it was like to be a middle schooler and wanted to experience being something else, something even more thrilling.

Reading also taught me that everyone has a story, a perspective. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that, to get so caught up in just seeing things from our own views that we forget that others have their own as well. Reading encouraged me to take the time to listen to stories of those around me and to really try to understand them. And somehow, through taking the time to deeply understand others, it also helped me better understand myself.

“It allows me to have experiences that I otherwise never would. I love seeing life through a different lens. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that my own experiences, however long I live, are always going to be limited, geographically, culturally, personally, in various ways. And so, therefore, the only way to expand those experiences is to read about the experiences of others.”

-English teacher Ellie Pojarska

Photo by Sania Choudhary

Stories can connect people in a way that nothing else can. Some of the best friends I’ve made are people who I read the same books as I have. There is a certain unique joy in being able to say “I’ve read that, too!” and the immediate connection that forms can’t be made any other way. It’s kind of like finding out that you went to the same school as someone, but then also that you were in the same class, and knew the exact same people, and had the exact same best friend, oh and also that you could see everything going on in their heads, that you walked down the exact same hallways and talked to the exact same people and felt the exact same emotions. You know, that feeling. And even though my interpretation of what I’ve read may not mirror that of others, learning how others saw the same story is a source of learning and excitement in itself.

Reading isn’t easy, and the deeper one tries to get into it, the harder it becomes. It takes patience and brainpower and focus to be able to sit down and read, believe me I know. But I also know that it is so incredibly worth it. The connections readers can make with the text, and more importantly themselves, are unique and can’t be fostered any other way. Who wouldn’t want to be able to travel across the globe while sitting comfortably on their bed? Who wouldn’t want to see the world from a different set of eyes? Knowing all this, who wouldn’t want to read?

So in the end, is reading worth protecting? Yes, yes, a million times over yes. Losing reading would be losing a part of our culture, a gift that we have been given and have been developing for millenia. Stories are timeless. They can range from being about cavemen to modern software engineers. It has brought us to where we are as people today, and it will continue to shape us as humans in the future. It is a way to not only grasp a fuller understanding of the world we live in and the people around us, but also a way for us to gain deeper insights into ourselves as individuals.

All it means if you don’t like reading is that you just haven’t found the right book yet, but I’m sure that sitting patiently on a shelf somewhere is the perfect book waiting just for you.

Closing her old treasure, she exits a place we’ll never know in a daze. As her senses resuscitate, she is bombarded by everything surrounding her, the birds chirping, the sun shining, the people passing, the coffee brewing. She is suddenly aware of the world around her, a world that she will never see the same, a world that has never looked so beautiful.

Created By
Sania Choudhary