In Defense of Reading

I normally do not create new stories simply to show a reply I made to another Medium member. However, this was such an interesting — and frankly, confusing — comment on one of my stories that I wanted to share with you the strong thoughts I had.

Someone left this comment on a story of mine. My post was titled “The Top 2 Ways To Be A Better Writer” and specifically cited practicing writing and reading more as the ways.

Here is one response I received:

“There is a gap. The attention span needed to read entries on Facebook, new bytes, even short responses like this, isn’t that great, isn’t that demanding. it’s the same thing with short sentences and simplified vocabulary. if you write — or make speeches for that matter — using a a vocabulary and sentence structure that is all that is required of a five-year old, and, lets face it, there are no shortage of books and advice on writing that advocate what amounts to that, then, no, t’s not going to demand much of you. you can digest, opto-mentally speaking, many of those from you phone’s display, in the few moments you are sat on the toilet.

Then there’s the movies you can watch on the bus or the subway; again the short demand of attentions apn as you get jostled by the crowd, push back and forth and look up to see it this is your stop. Or the book of the movie.

No, it’s not even the long sentences with parenthetical asides (see above) that are demanding. It is the books that demand you follow the plot, the characters, the development. And don’t think that simplification here makes the book popular. Take “Game of Thrones” as an example. Lots of characters, each with tier own agenda. But really, how demanding was it follow? Too many of the ‘popular’ tales have been designed to be easily digestible, even if they were rococo in presentation.

Compare that to reading a maths textbook, the double page that opens with “And so …” followed by line after line of mathematical symbology, each line derived from the one preceding. it makes sense but also make a demand on your attention span.

Or try reading Aristotle’s “Politics”. Or Hobbes. Or John Stuart Mill. Works presenting “Ideas” and reasoning using a language other than maths.

Lets face it; the format of a Tweet, a news headline, most social media, are short. They, most likely, placed no great demand on the writer, no great attention span involved in their being written (which is also why so many are unclear or ambiguous), and hence place no read demand on being read. Call them a ‘fast food’, and ask how good they are for you intellectual health.”

I take issue with this. I wholeheartedly support open communication and everyone having their own opinion, but I did need to respond to this.

Here is my response:

I don’t think it’s fair to say that most books are “not demanding,” you’re even citing Game of Thrones, a notoriously plot-filled, complex, way-too-many character-driven series, as too short and undemanding.

Just because something is short does not mean it has no value. And while I personally don’t think twitter is a “demanding” platform for content, I also believe it has value and can be very useful.

I think ANY reading, while on a train, plane, or automobile, is useful and valuable. Reading can — and should — be fun, not just a slog through a math textbook. Textbooks and Aristotle are not the only books which provide value to the reader.

Here’s a report from the Society for Research in Childhood Development showing that reading, and particularly reading children’s books, results in higher test scores for children.

Here is a study from Neurology showing that cognitive activity, such as reading, lowers mental decline up to 32% and can help slow the process of memory and brain function decline.

Here is research from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America stating that people who engage their brains in activities like reading and puzzles are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

It is gatekeeping and unfair to self-determine what type of reading has “value” to people. Everyone defines value differently, and people get different things from different types of books.

I personally read primarily fiction (sci-fi in particular) as my “fun” reading. When working, I read and edit primarily nonfiction and business books. I’ve averaged about a book every two days for most of my life, one book each day when I had more time. I have a wide vocabulary, a good memory, no discernible cognitive decline — and frankly, it’s fun. My personal time reading is for entertainment. We aren’t meant to be learning math or diving into Aristotle’s “Politics” at every moment of our lives.

Plus, my point is that reading books — any books — will make you a better writer, which I stand by. In addition to all the benefits of reading in general, reading more — especially within the genre you write — brings tons of value and knowledge, plus allows you to critically analyze your genre and see what works and what doesn’t.

As a note, I read on my Kindle on the train, and despite other passengers and the movement, I still get value and enjoyment out of it.

What are your thoughts on this topic? I am very interested to see what others think.

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Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.” jyssicaschwartz.com

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