the power of reading

Growing up surrounded by books and family that shared their love of reading with me has had a huge influence in the way I perceive reading in general. I love it, and I have loved it for as long as I can remember. Even at the age of four, I was already beginning to create my own characters in my mind, developing my own stories inspired by the many children’s books I was read. Books have been my way of momentarily escaping this world and with a turn of a page, finding myself in another. It is through books that I learned lessons and morals that most people don’t even begin to understand until they go out into the world and are forced to learn through experience. It’s through books that I slayed dragons and conquered kingdoms, all while forming long-lasting bonds with characters I will forever love and cherish. There is something so magical about the power of words — how 26 letters of the alphabet, woven together in beautiful and marvelous ways, can pluck the deepest of strings within your soul and strike a match within your heart.

I genuinely enjoy the feeling of getting lost in a good story; and to me, it isn’t something that feels forced or obligatory — I do it for my own enjoyment. As early as Kindergarten, my teachers introduced us to the world of literature. I was already familiar with it, so I immensely enjoyed “Story Time” and learning how to read on my own. Slowly but surely, I started going to the library and choosing books on my own, and spending countless hours flipping through the pages of children’s books, chapter books, and eventually, whole novels. I read not only the books that I chose for myself, but the books I was to read in all my literary classes. Many of those books strayed far from the genres I was used to (fiction and fantasy) but it helped me broaden my horizons and my tastes in reading.

The question “why do you read” seems to have a simple answer (“for pleasure, of course”) but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Let me elaborate — I read to escape. I read to inhabit another reality, to let myself see things through a different lens. I read to expand my knowledge — my language, my thoughts, my opinions, and how I feel about the world. In this day and age, we are bombarded by pop culture — reading sadly seems to be a quickly fading interest; because of all the advertising, fashion trends, media and television that people get caught up in. I read to recognize the truth about human nature, and through fiction, I am able to challenge my own values, morals and assumptions and empathize with an entirely different point of view. I read to feel connected to a greater reality — what is happening beyond my experience.

One of the best things about reading is being able to relate to a character. Fictional characters are, in a way, a reflection of all the different types of personalities that exist in real life. When you read a book that has perhaps, an imaginative and outgoing main character, you’re gaining insight into how that person’s mind works — how they interact with those around them, what they value, and what they believe. If you read a book with a main character that suffers from a mental illness, you’re gaining insight into their life, their coping mechanisms, and correcting your previous assumptions about a person dealing with that. These characters sometimes become role models, fictional beings that a reader is able to resonate with, appreciate, and learn from. When there are two or more characters in a novel that are put in situations where they must learn to adapt and compromise, the reader is able to learn from the characters’ experience, so that they can handle such situations should they arise in their own lives.

When I asked my friend Asma what her thoughts were about this question, she responded beautifully: “When I read, I can become everything I’m not and more. I can crawl out of my shell of anxiousness and turn into whoever I want to be. I can live in worlds that only exist in paper. For a few hours, I can forget all the bad things that are happening in my life and focus on a story. There have been so many times that I felt miserable and was only able to get back up with a few words that painted a world that took me away from my own. I love reading because it makes me comfortable. I love reading because it’s my medicine. I love reading because it makes me happy.”

Books are informative; they are powerful in the way they can alter a person’s perception and give them more knowledge about the world they live in. Whether you read purely for entertainment or for research, you will always be subconsciously doing exactly that. There is something very magical about the power of words — how twenty six letters of the alphabet, woven together in beautiful and marvelous ways, can pluck the deepest of strings within your soul and strike a match in your heart.

Simra MariamComment