As a life-long reader, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint any particular reason why people shouldn’t be reading – literature opens up a world of wonder, information and entertainment for anyone willing to simply pick up a book and read it. For centuries, literature has been held in equally high esteem by both the mass public and the most-highbrow academic circles. Literature is generally considered to be one of the canonical arts with books being held up as strong examples of intelligence and wit and, indeed, reading is frequently thought of as being an activity widely associated with people of a higher socioeconomic status and the 5% of adults who are illiterate, have an extremely low socioeconomic status (Sharon 148). To children, literature can allow them to explore the world without ever leaving their bedroom – they can talk to animals, meet fairy queens and evil witches, discover the true meanings behind messages and walk the Earth. To adults, literature provides them with the potential for escape – away from busy lives of work, taxes, bills and worry – literature allows the adult to remove themselves from the hum-drum of their workaday lives and lose themselves in another world. Equally, to any age reader, literature provides the ability to learn, to love, to discover and to broaden their world view. The purpose of this paper is to explore the many advantages of reading literature.
For many, the most obvious advantage to being a reader of literature is the increasing improvement of the individual’s vocabulary and general understanding of the English language. Indeed, one study assessed the fifth grader’s ability to infer the meaning of words through their prior knowledge. The study, carried out by James F. Baumann et al. assessed “the impact of teaching fifth grade students how to derive word meanings through morphemic analysis and infer word meanings through contextual analysis.” (Baumann et al. 447-448). The impetus behind the assessment was to view whether children are capable of carrying out such inferences based solely on the context and their prior knowledge. One might expect this to be the case if the child was well-read and indeed, the study states that in order to “understand the ‘boundless expressive power’ of our language; one must deal with ‘the first trick, the word’” (Baumann et al. 448). The implication here is that the more that an individual reads, the greater their understanding of language and the more power they possess to express themselves as well as derive meaning from new vocabulary also. It is this ‘boundless expressive power’ which links to one of the biggest advantages of reading and that is the improvement of your self – your linguistic ability, your vocabulary and your ability to express yourself fully – and your ability to understand and, ultimately, enjoy a piece of literature. So many young people today prefer to avoid reading for an easier, less-taxing activity but, in reality, reading is something which must be worked at – as proven by the fact that none of us are born able to read and must learn at the appropriate time. Reading is an on-going activity of self-improvement.
Equally, a further advantage to reading is its ability to transport the reader to a whole other realm. James Heap discusses reading in terms of it being a ‘cultural activity’ in which he states that when reading is considered from a psychological standpoint, reading is “discrete sets of interrelated cognitive processes” and Heap goes on to clarify that “Such processes can be said to occur like events in a physical universe, though their occurrence is motivated.” (Heap 14). By this, Heap is implying that reading can manifest non-physical events in the mind of the reader. The individual experiences the culture and the events of the text, as if they are experiencing them first hand but are, in fact, not experiencing them at all. The truth behind this is that one of reading’s greatest advantages is the exposure it offers to people of all ages to experiences that they may or may not be able to experience first-hand – or, even are yet to experience but may choose to as a result of a book.
In this sense, reading can provide an opportunity for cultural expansion to a young mind: youths who perhaps lack the resources to travel the world or even meet a range of different people, can still embark on a fantastic journey and meet people from different cultures, classes, races and belief systems all through simply accessing a book.
A third, but by no means final, advantage to reading is the ‘escape’ that it offers to individuals. Having discussed its cultural implications, reading can open up previously unexplored worlds (whether real or fantastical) and broaden the reader’s horizons but just as easily, literature can pick up the reader, pluck them from their humdrum existence and place them down into the middle of a war, a space race, a dystopian world, a Latin romance… in practice, literature can transport its reader anywhere. In agreement with this is Victor Nell who in his paper, The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications, explores the very human need to escape through ‘a good book.’ Nell argues that we read fiction for pleasure for three reasons: “First, fiction reading accounts for most ludic reading. Second, the experience of being lost in a book, in absorption or entrancement, is most strongly associated with the reading of fiction. Third, since the eighteenth century the reading of fiction, unlike other kinds of reading, has been the target of merciless critical asceticism and has even been regarded as addictive” (Nell 8). Interestingly then, reading has decreasingly taken pole position for the entertainment of young people with the increase of video games, television and the internet. That said, reading does still provide the individual with entertainment and an escape from the everyday reality of our lives filled with work, bills and stress.
It is clear then that reading provides the individual with a number of advantages – ranging from the ability to express oneself completely to being able to find solace from the harsh realities of their everyday life. Rightfully so, reading is associated with intelligence and high achievement but it is important to remember that regardless of this, if an individual wishes to read then there will be a book out there that will suit their needs and intellect. It is vital, however, to impress the important of reading upon children and encourage them to read for pleasure; out of choice. Reading helps to raise the standard of an individual’s academic ability, their ability to express themselves and also to better understand the world around them.
Baumann, James F. et al. “Vocabulary Tricks: Effects of Instruction in Morphology and Context on Fifth-Grade Students' Ability to Derive and Infer Word Meanings.” American Educational Research Journal 40.2 (2003): 447-494. Web.
Heap, James L. “Reading as Cultural Activities: Enabling and Reflective Texts.” Curriculum Inquiry 21.2 (1991): 11-39. Web.
Nell, Victor. “The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications.” Reading Research Quarterly 23.1 (1988): 6-50. Web.
Sharon, Amiel T. “What Do Adults Read?” Reading Research Quarterly 9.2 (1973-1974): 148-169. Web.