In defence of reading books

In defence of reading books

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Progress is not always bad, but it does need to be thought through to see what we might lose as well as what we might gain. The increase in electronic, bite-sized, fast-paced communication at the cost of the typical long-form book that takes 150 pages or more does have consequences for us.

Personally, I have noticed a significant impact on my life when I have either neglected books by choice or due to sheer busyness. When my intellectual diet consists mainly of online news articles and social media, it tends to make me feel negative rather than positive. Social media thrives on our comparisons with others, and a diet high in the news cannot help but make anyone feel down as we see the brokenness of the world. In addition, I notice my concentration span slipping and my engagement with truly new ideas going down.

Reading books has many upsides in our lives. By ‘books’, I don’t mean only hardcore theology textbooks, but anything that sustains an argument for a significant time. That would include novels, history, Christian books and current issue books. How these books are consumed is a secondary issue; whether as ebooks, physical paper books, or audiobooks, the importance is focussing with our minds on an argument for a significant period of time.

Let me give you some positives to reading real books:

  1. Reading books builds focus and concentration. Instead of always flitting around from site to site on the internet, focussing on one book for an hour helps build focus in other areas of our lives. It is hard for many of us to focus on a task we need to do; it becomes fragmented as we stop to search on the internet for something, check email, check social media, and a million other things. Real efficiency and work of real significance requires focus. Reading books is a good way to build such a focus.
  • Reading books can provide an in-depth understanding of issues. Many of us consume only headlines. We might hear the soundbite summarising some major world issue on the news. This does not usually build our understanding very well. Politics are complicated, and most issues have more factors to them than a news sound bite can provide. Reading books will help build a real understanding of issues. Even good novels can help with that, painting a picture of a time and place to help us understand worldviews and experiences we didn’t understand before.
  • Reading books builds our capacity to understand the most important Book. We are called to meditate on the Word day and night (Ps 1) and engage with it, talking about it with others as we live our lives (Deut 6). We need practice at engaging with any text and thinking through serious issues to be able to do this. Avid readers take their skills and apply them to the Bible, gleaning significant insights as they focus.
  • Reading books is usually better for you than the alternatives. Netflix and Youtube are generally passive media where we consume but don’t intellectually engage that often. Social media has its benefits but in the end is often not memorable, doesn’t change our life for the better, and doesn’t stay in our memories. In contrast, there have been many books I have read that forced me to reconsider my worldview and understanding and actions.
  • Reading books forces you to engage with issues rather than reinforcing what you already believe. The problem with the internet being driven by our interests is that we find our tribe online and only read and engage with things we already believe. It is good for us to read widely and engage with those we disagree with; this builds a better understanding of the world and helps us be honest as we engage with others.

Read books. Find time to listen to an audiobook on the way to work or read a good novel before you go to bed. Over time, it will benefit your life in many ways you don’t expect.