Featured Image: The bookshelf at my Airbnb. They’ve got my favorite book! Can you find it?
Why aren’t you reading? I am asking you, my reader, and also myself at times. I love to read but it is hard to find time to. Often after work, my eyes are too tired to read and my brain is too slow to comprehend what I’m reading, and so watching a movie or show is a lot easier. So I get it. However I still finish books fairly often, and I also often read short stories, which are much more palatable in terms of time constraints and attention spans. That is also why I write short stories, not because I can’t write long-form, but because I know people are much more likely to give my writing a shot if it’s short.
But you really should be reading, and I’m not just talking about news articles and blog posts (well, read mine) but reading fiction is important. There’s a reason they made you read in school and it wasn’t to torture you. Unfortunately, the forced reading is the reason some people have given me as to why they don’t read anymore but I find that pretty lame and a bad excuse. You just haven’t found the right book yet or the right genre!
There are countless reasons why reading is good for you, one of them being that it stimulates your mind in ways other activities don’t. When was the last time you felt mentally stimulated? Maybe it was when you were having a deep conversation with your friend about the meaning of life. I know it certainly wasn’t while watching the most recent presidential debates – in fact, we probably all lost brain cells from that. And it often isn’t while watching television at all. Television does all the work for you, while reading keeps your brain active and engaged because you must use your imagination to fill in the gaps and bridge concepts.
The mental stimulation from reading every day can even slow the onset of dementia and improve your memory. It can also make you live longer according to a study by Yale: those who read for thirty minutes everyday lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders and magazine readers.
Reading can also help your concentration. I know the ability to concentrate is one of the biggest challenges of nonreaders, but just like with running, you need to keep up with it to build your stamina. No beginner runner is going to finish a marathon just like no beginner reader is going to go straight for Watership Down (it’s a 450-page book about rabbits that even I couldn’t finish). Treat your brain like a muscle and work it out every day; it will be hard in the beginning, but eventually, you’ll be benching 400-pagers in no time.
Readers of fiction are also more open-minded. A study at the University of Toronto concluded that readers of short story fiction were more open-minded than those who read non-fiction essays. And with open-mindedness, you can become more creative, which is an underappreciated soft skill. Creative people are better problem solvers because they are able to think outside the box. Along with open-mindedness comes empathy, a skill which I thought was innate in humans but somehow seems lacking in the current population.
Reading can also increase your vocabulary much more than watching television or reading poorly edited news articles. Where do you think I got all the words on my Best Words list? From reading! Albeit, a common problem of mine is knowing how to spell and define words, but not actually being able to pronounce them out loud correctly… but at least I know them!
Just SIX minutes of reading can lower stress levels by 68 percent according to a study done by the University of Sussex, beating out listening to music, drinking tea, and taking a walk. So, instead of watching television before bed, or reading depressing news articles, you should pop open a book and you’ll be on your way to dreamland much faster.
One of the most important skills you can gain from reading is critical thinking skills. The more you read, the more you can identify misleading information. Writers are smart and they know that with the right twisting of words, they can convince you of anything. Politicians are in the same boat. The ability to see or hear something and immediately be suspect of its validity is a great skill to have.
Now, since I just blabbered on about reading books, I might as well give some recommendations! I am doing this without looking at my bookshelf so pardon its incompleteness:
For Sci-Fi lovers:
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
For Classics lovers:
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
1984 by George Orwell
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesee Williams
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
For Mystery lovers:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
For Short Story lovers:
Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Henry James
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Any Edgar Allen Poe story
All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Young Adult Books:
Candor by Pam Bachorz
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
George by Alex Gino
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Exit Here by Jasons Myers
Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross
Room by Emma Donoghue