From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the latest Stephen King novel, books have been a vital part of mankind for thousands of years. With the rise of the digital age, a time when large amounts of information are widely available to many people through technology, it is tempting to cast off reading as a thing of the past. But reading still greatly influences society, much like it has done through the millennia it has dominated our world.
It is common knowledge that reading benefits the brain. MRI scans confirm that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain which get more sophisticated over time, strengthening your brain. It is how we understand elusive themes such as love, religion, nature, and purpose. When you read, you look inside the mind of the character; you feel their emotions, their struggles, their hopes, and their worries. You are transported into their world; a world created out of pure imagination and creativity.
When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I visualized myself in her situation and empathized with what she was going through. Her longing for nature made me realize how lucky I was to be able to go on hikes, to explore, and to immerse myself in the fresh air and freedom which nature provides. Hearing birds sing, feeling the wet moss and dirt on my feet, observing the tiny animals and insects, and simply breathing in the refreshing atmosphere of nature was something that I had taken for granted. Her diary provided a window into an unfathomable past that is hard to comprehend otherwise. Sure, we can say that six million Jews were killed, but our minds can’t quite grasp such an astonishing number, but by reading about her everyday struggles as a teenager, we humanize these statistics by thinking of these 6 million people just like Anne, and therefore just like us. Thus, reading is our window into the past.
But reading is also our present. Through various forms of social media, such as Tiktok and Youtube, reading is becoming a social activity where people can share and talk about their favorite books. Though the internet may have caused the sharp decline in reading books, it also opens a door into bringing readers together.
Reading doesn’t have to be purely fiction either. Journalism is another way reading brings people together. Journalists who write about different cultures, religions, and political viewpoints expand our ideas about the world and give us a broader sense of what it means to be a moral person.
Finally, reading is our way to see the future. Books like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 all serve as warnings to society. In all of these books, a common theme is the banning or burning of books. I believe that this is no coincidence, that without books, we will morph into dystopias. As Wilfred Peterson once said, “You open doors when you open books… doors that swing wide to unlimited horizons of knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration that will enlarge the dimensions of your life.” Doors that will lead you to great adventures, to unknown lands, to danger, love, and mystery; but most importantly to the imaginations of people who have come before us, are alive today, and those that will come after us.