For some people, there’s no greater pleasure than settling into a comfortable chair, cracking open the stiff spine of a new book, and diving headlong into a different world. Books open up infinite possibilities and pleasure, but sadly, reading is a pastime that fewer people are engaging in.
If you’re like a large percentage of Americans, you haven’t picked up a book at all this year, and it’s even likelier that if you did, you didn’t finish it. Poll results released by the Associated Press and Ipsos show that one in four Americans don’t read books at all, and half of Americans read less than four each year.
Although the drop in time spent reading is sad, what’s sadder is our declining ability to read. According to Oxford Journals, the average reading ability of Americans hovers around the eighth or ninth grade level, and the UN Chronicle reports that up to 25 million citizens can’t read or write at all. The United States ranks 21st in the world for literacy. Number one in terms of nationwide literacy? Cuba. What’s even scarier is that according to a report published by Renaissance Learning, the average reading ability of our high school graduates is at a fifth grade level.
The Benefits of Reading
In today’s hectic world, picking up a book might seem like it’s not worth the time. However, reading offers countless benefits:
1. Reading Uses Your Brain
The average American spends five and a half hours every day watching TV. While television can be entertaining, it does little for your brain or for your body. You actually burn more calories reading a book than you do watching TV. Reading is an active mental process: you think more, use your imagination, and you increase your knowledge.
2. Reading Expands Your Worldview
I’ve never actually walked through a dusty village in Mali. I wasn’t born into life of a Plains Indian in the 1800s. And, I’ve never trudged along the rainy, dark streets of Paris with a hungry belly and nothing in my pocket except a notebook and a blunt pencil to write my next story. However, I’ve experienced all these things through the magic and mystery of books.
Books allow you to experience other people, other places, and other cultures that you might never be exposed to in regular life. This helps you develop compassion for suffering, empathy for those different than you, and an open mind.
3. Books Build Focus
When you read a magazine, you jump from pictures to captions to story, page after page. When you read a website, you’re constantly distracted by moving ads and links urging you on to the next site or story. While any reading is beneficial, books help you develop the ability to focus and concentrate because there is no distraction – there is only the story. Furthermore, reading helps improve your memory.
4. Reading Makes You Interesting
The world’s brightest, most creative minds have written millions of books, sharing their wisdom, all of which are just waiting for you to pick up and discover. The more you read, the more you have to talk about with colleagues, friends, dates, your spouse or partner, and complete strangers. Reading gives you a rich store of knowledge, ideas, and experiences that you can then share with others.
5. Reading Helps You Learn
I taught myself how to start a business by reading books. I’ve learned about yoga, Buddhism, American history, mythology, and many other fascinating subjects through reading. Reading is a very cheap way to learn new skills and concepts. Instead of attending a class and paying overpriced tuition, or instead of wishing you knew how to build a blog or program software, teach yourself through books. Reading empowers you to take responsibility for your education, no matter how young or old you are.
How to Read More
Sitting down to read doesn’t mean you have to carve out an hour or more of your day. There are many ways you can sneak more reading into your life:
1. Cancel Cable TV
I canceled cable TV years ago, and I have to say I haven’t missed it a bit. Watching less TV is a very easy way to open up time to read more. I often use the evening to read, and it’s my favorite part of the day. If I still had cable, I might otherwise be flipping through channel after channel, looking for something to watch.
2. Invest in a Tablet Device
According to a Pew Research study, and published in NBC News, 30% of study respondents who own a tablet or e-reader say they spend more time reading than they used to. They also read more books: The average tablet owner reads 24 books per year, compared to other readers, who read an average of 15 books per year.
I own an Amazon Kindle, and I love it. One of the biggest benefits to owning a Kindle is that Amazon has thousands of books, a large majority of them classics, available for free download. This is a very easy and cheap way to get quick and portable access to the world’s best books.
Another benefit of e-readers is that they’re small. You can take your entire library with you on a plane, train, or in your purse. You can read during your morning commute, while you’re in line at the grocery store, or waiting to pick up the kids from school. E-readers make it easier to fill small pockets of time with reading instead of aimlessly staring into space or checking Twitter on your smartphone.
3. Choose Books or Genres that Interest You
Do you know how many times I’ve picked up “War and Peace” and tried to read it? At least a dozen. It’s one of those books I feel like I should read, but I’ve never been able to get into the story no matter how hard I’ve tried.
Sometimes you’re just not ready for a book, or a book’s not ready for you. Perhaps you’re not old enough, or you’re not at the right point in your life. You might not be destined to cross paths at all – and that’s fine. So don’t make yourself read a book you’re not interested in just because you feel you should read it. Start with books that interest you – you’ll get more pleasure and value out of the experience. If it feels like a chore, then you’re not doing yourself any favors.
4. Set a Time
If you have a really busy schedule, you’re probably going to have to set aside time to read. And this means actually putting it into your schedule, or picking a specific time of day. Even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, it will still be a good way to develop the habit, help you relax, and allow you to momentarily forget about the stresses of everyday life in a healthy way.
Try reading on your lunch break, or, wake up earlier than everyone else and read while you’re having a morning cup of coffee. You could also try reducing your Internet time in the evenings – there is some amazing reading available online, but the web can also be really distracting. Reading to your kids after dinner or before bed will help them develop the love of reading, and enable you to read more as well.
5. Read With Others
Reading with your kids is a wonderful way to teach them the love of reading. But reading with others, such as with friends or as part of a book club, can also be a rewarding and motivating way to read more.
There are even online book clubs you can join. These clubs expose you to books you might not have heard about, and they also give you the opportunity to discuss what you’ve read and learned with others. These discussions and opinions can also give you a greater understanding of the books and its characters.
Reading should be a joy, not an obligation. Books are full of magic and mystery, and if you’re not used to reading regularly it might be hard to tap into that at first. Keep going, however. Pick up a book and find time to read during the day. If it’s not a good book or if it’s not bringing you pleasure, then stop reading it! You certainly don’t have to finish every book you start.
What other strategies do you use to add more reading time to your day?