As a high school English teacher, it sometimes feels like reading for pleasure is a dying art. I sometimes worry bookworms are on the verge of extinction.
I know in reality there are still many of us out there who appreciate the value of a book. According to the Pew Research Center’s study, only 27 percent of Americans did not read a book in 2016. Still, as a teacher, an author, and a bookworm myself, I’ve heard enough outlandish statements to know the art of reading for pleasure isn’t an art appreciated by all.
In a sense, I understand the non-bookworm plight, perhaps since my husband is an anti-reader by choice. In a world teeming with virtual reality, visual stimulation, new technologies, and instant gratification, reading words in black and white on a page can seem archaic and even unnecessary.
Why spend hours decoding words on a page when you can delve into an instant experience?
Why try to solve the puzzle of a plot when the answers can probably be Googled and summarized in minutes?
Why read a book when you can just watch the movie?
Certainly, I could cite science to support why everyone should tap into their inner bookworm. Statistics about vocabulary, essential communication skills, and literacy are vastly supported online. Science shows that reading for pleasure has a positive impact on academics and even mental health.
However, as a bookworm, I believe the benefits go well-beyond the hard, cold facts of statistics and studies. There’s an unidentifiable level of benefit that can’t easily be put into words. In some ways, it takes a bookworm to understand just how powerful literature can be for the psyche, the spirit, and the overall human experience.
The True Value of Reading
To me, reading is about taking time away from the crazy, rat-race of our world and tapping into a world I rarely do alone: myself.
Sitting in silence on my deck with nothing but sunglasses, a lemonade, and a book in my hands, I feel most at home in my own skin. Away from the pressures of society, relationships, career goals, and the constant need to plan out my life, I can escape into the words of another. It is in this affordable oasis I am able to genuinely explore my views on life.
It is in my lounge chair with those pages flipping that I am most able to uncover who I am at the deepest, purest level.
It seems paradoxical that reading another’s story, sometimes even a fictitious story, would enlighten a person about who they are as an individual. However, it is through the story of another that one can explore facets of life otherwise untapped.
Reading gives me the chance to observe the world from two other perspectives—an original virtual reality, if you will. The author and the character show me a different worldview, a different setting, and sometimes a completely different life experience. For a few hours, I get to submerge myself in life from a different angle and figure it out myself.
I get to gauge my own reactions without the internet or society telling me what to believe. I get to try on a new persona and explore how it connects with my own self.
Most of all, it is through my time in books I am reminded that in this ugly, hate-filled world, there is still hope. Sure, the books aren’t all rosy. I’ve lamented injustices in socially significant books such as To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve explored the maniacal but also human thoughts of a murderer in Crime & Punishment. I’ve feared the seemingly easy way power can be corrupted and abused in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve sobbed over the emotional tragedy in Me Before You. Not every book grants a happy ending, after all.
In short, I’ve walked a lot of frightening, angering, and even frustrating journeys through my books that have made me more aware of the frightening, angering, and frustrating elements of my own world.
Literature is filled with harsh realities of life, which some argue is a reason to avoid it. However, I think there’s comfort in that. There’s comfort in knowing that a life story doesn’t have to be perfectly joyous to be worthwhile, and that every human emotion has value. I also think there’s hope in understanding the emotions that accompany the injustices in our own world. Literature can uncover harsh truths in our own world and also give us the emotional connection that incites us to rise up and do something about it. Literature tells us the emotional stories we sometimes need to hear.
Yes, Society Needs Bookworms
Being a bookworm, thus, is a beautiful thing and, in my opinion, an essential facet of the human experience.
There’s beauty in knowing I’m not alone in my journey, that the range of human emotions are wide and varied. There’s power in the fact that I might not be able to experience them all in the “real” world, but I can through literature.
Literature, whether non-fiction or fiction, teaches us the power of human emotion, the commonalities in our struggles, and the beauty of the human experience when it is appreciated. Most of all, it teaches us to listen to our own voice and make our own decisions when it comes to life, to injustice, and to the stories of others.
There’s a special kind of wisdom that comes from experiencing human emotions and journeys through the eyes of another. This is something the news, the media, society, and even social media can’t fully teach us. So in a technologically-advanced society, I think we all need to discover our inner bookworm in order to connect on a level we don’t always appreciate in our modern world—an emotionally powered, self-aware one.