Illustration from 1889 showing three women reading the three successive volumes of a novel, possibly borrowed from a circulating library
I’ll admit it: I haven’t been reading enough lately. I’ve been on the road for work and I’ve felt like I can’t quite get a proper grasp on a normal schedule—when I wake up, when I go to bed, it all hasn’t been the same for weeks now which has left my allocated reading time unreliable and sleepy. But it is always these times of mental sluggishness that light a fire under my tush to expect more of myself and hop back on top of things. It is these times that remind me that reading acts as an irreplaceable necessity in my life and I think it’s worth articulating why.
Reading Broadens My Mind
Spending time with myself can be great when I need to make a big decision or write a blog post or take a shower. But I find that in the event I have too much free time for my brain to wander as it pleases, without anything adding or building on the gray matter that’s already there, it’s pretty easy to get sick of myself. I feel like on my own, I have a set amount of little thoughts to think and a set amount of little questions to ask, each answered by my own conclusions, all relegated to my little life and the people who flit in and out of it. I know that the quality of those people and their personal set of neural pathways can contribute to how mine wax or wane or change or don’t, but nothing works as actively or as effectively to put my brain in a new skull than reading does. I find myself living life in the shoes of the people with whom I spend time–be they fictional or historical, scriptural or even found in poetry–thinking as they might or appreciating life from new angles as they teach me to; my life develops meaning. I will always associate the color purple, whenever and wherever it pops up in my life with God’s love (and I always try to appreciate it; God love admiration), as Shug taught in The Color Purple. That’s cool. Shug’s ProTip augments any hike I adventure on and gives my mind reason to breathe anew on a regular basis. I will always associate the dry smell of almonds with “the fate of unrequited love,” as Dr. Juvenal Urbino taught me in Love in the Time of Cholera. That’s cool too, although it makes almonds a little depressing as a snack. I even continue to associate merry-go-rounds with aging, a la Something Wicked This Way Comes, and that’s not even a book I’ve read for at least five years. Better, I continue to associate sticky buns with Jonathan Toomey, and Christmas, and love, and that’s a book I’ve never even read to myself. The more time I’m willing to spend layering my mind with fresh pages, the greater that web of different people and different thoughts will be for me to draw on as I try to learn and grow myself–which I then won’t have to do alone.
Reading Betters My Mind
When serious athletes train, their efforts nearly always manifest themselves in their physique. Cyclists tend to have some pretty gnarly thighs, swimmers have those crazy arms, and then dancers just have perfect bodies all around (only marginally biased–I mean, really, Desmond Richardson, Roberto Bolle, what even are those muscles?). When readers read, their efforts manifest themselves in an entirely comparable way: The brain is a muscle, that, when exercised, can demonstrate tremendous mental build in all sorts of useful ways. On average, the vocabulary of those who read regularly versus those who don’t differs by a gajillion words, give or take. That’s a lot. Readers also have the opportunity to understand the world more deeply and, reading the right material, to become more informed about it. The more perspectives I can understand and defend in today’s world, the more effective I can be in my interactions with others on any level, be they social or professional or even religious. It’s as if by reading, I have the opportunity to steadily rack up a pile of intellectual currency measured largely by an increased lexicon and increased understanding of my planet. And I think perhaps most important in that equation of intellectual currency, reading constantly renews my sense of teachability, no matter the source. From fiction to nonfiction, periodicals to tweets, if I can teach my eyes to be hungry for the written word, I am in turn teaching my brain to be hungry to be taught. And I honestly believe the most valuable way to better ourselves by being teachable.
Reading Respects My Mind
Finally, I think we should remember to feel flattered by God that He gave us such tremendous tools as our brains in the first place. They are autonomous and complex and entirely boundless in their aims and in their triumphs. I am only beginning to do right by God for having given me this tool when I choose to value it properly with my time. I should feed it and groom it as I might with any other gift worth half as much. I would think it is as grave a mistake for me to assume mental passivity in my daily routine as it would be for me to assume physical passivity. Imagine if I allowed myself to sit all day, every day, entirely unmoving and unproductive. Not only would I be destroying my purpose for coming to this earth, but I would likely find myself featured on some highly dramatized reality show on late night TLC, and how ghastly would that be? I may not see such obvious results if I allow my mind to stagnate, but my reaction to the very thought of it should be the same. I owe God more than that; I owe myself more than that. Reading, in effect, gets my brain up off its bum and takes it outside for a walk. Reading lets my mind romp and roam, climb mountains and breathe in fresh air. Considering what a valuable gift my mind is, reading is an expression of gratitude; reading is right. On a moral level. I do not think it can be downplayed: As I seek to become as God is, I must cultivate each and every tool granted me to explore higher levels of thinking, learning, and understanding in hopes that my habits, even if not in their scale, might echo those of Someone greater than I.
So I get that I’m likely preaching to the choir, but as official aspirers, more than any other clan, we should endeavor to build our minds actively and cultivate our brains directly. Let us be readers. Let us be conscious and proactive about the quality and the quantity of the food we feed our minds. Let us care.
Now it’s time for me to go take a page out of my own book and curl up with my kindle to bookend my day. It’s been a while since I last read properly. I just hope I still remember how.