The Life Of A Page-Turning Adventurer:
How Being Well-Read Makes You Well-Rounded
Guest post by: Ciera Horton
I have traveled for miles on a raft down the Mississippi River. I’ve been on a circus train in the Midwest. I have journeyed into the heart of the Congo with ivory traders, I’ve burned books, I’ve witnessed a fisherman wrangle a marlin on open waters. I have hitchhiked to the edge of the galaxy, flown to Neverland and back and time traveled to dozens of decades, all while never leaving my house. I am a traveler, a wandering adventurer, a lover of the mystery of prose and all because I am a reader.
Books were a foundational part of my childhood. Growing up, I was memorizing Dr. Seuss stories at age two and reading chapter books before the first grade. This sparked a passionate love for literature and has led me to pursue studies in English and creative writing.
But in our culture, I am part of a shrinking minority. Believers and non-believers alike increasingly reject the pastime of reading and replace books with gaming consoles and cell phone apps. Mindless entertainment becomes the sole priority because the gratification is more immediate and the participation is passive. However, this shift away from valuing books and their influence has detrimental consequences. Literature not only expands readers’ comprehension of the outside world, but also aids internal, personal development of the mind and heart. Christians should value reading because being well-read leads to a well-rounded worldview.
With the rising popularity of Kindles, Nooks and e-books, people often turn in a library card for digital downloads they can take with them anywhere. Much of the debate regarding the declining trend in paper books commonly relates to nostalgia. Passionate readers assert that nothing beats holding a physical book in their hands — while I agree with this, I believe there is much more to the debate than simply sentimentality vs. practicality. A study from 2006 with Nielsen Norman showed that the more people read words on a screen, the more they read in the “F” pattern, reading the top line and then scanning down the left hand side for information. This nonlinear format makes it difficult to concentrate. When you have an actual book in your hands, the sense of movement in actually turning and reading a different physical page instead of the same tablet screen helps you feel a sense of progression in the text, which aids in memory. This increased focus and the ability to remember information helps readers formulate enlightened opinions and perspectives.
Furthermore, an exposé in The Guardian illustrated how reading quality literature increases the three major categories of intelligence as commonly recognized by psychologists. The first is “crystallized intelligence” which refers to the catalog of sensory information you retain. The more books you read, the more vocabulary you learn and the more apt you are to recall the knowledge you gained. “Fluid intelligence” means the ability to think critically, to be discerning and to strategize. The relationship between reading and fluid intelligence is unique because the more you read, the better you learn to think analytically and with greater critical thinking you have better reading comprehension. The final category, “emotional intelligence”, is perhaps the most telling. Readers have been shown to have greater ability to interpret and react to their own and others’ feelings. The journal Science published a study showing that reading literary fiction improves interpersonal relationships and responses to emotional situations. Perhaps this is because readers have a wider depth of experiences they have encountered from the texts, which gives them discernment, empathy and emotional maturity.
But the most essential part of reading is how it influences our worldview, our particular philosophy or way of looking at the world. As Christians, we should be acutely aware of what things are filling our minds and changing our perspectives.
Writer Pat Williams says, “We are changed by what we read. Close that book, and you are not the same person anymore. Because of what you just read, your worldview—your understanding, your compassion for others, your ability to engage intelligently with others—has expanded a little. Books help us grow….”
When we read, we become a witness to the narrative of someone’s life, for all books offer us a glimpse into the tapestry of various ideologies and life-shaping encounters. It is a formative investment of time and during this time we are being molded. The active undertaking of immersion in the text stimulates our minds as we engage with the words. While we are suspended in the illusion between fantasy and reality, the way we view others and ourselves is being influenced.
Through Jane Eyre, I gained a greater appreciation for the difficulties that someone can face. Through Fahrenheit 451, I became aware of the dangers of extreme censorship. I saw myself as every single March sister from the beloved Little Women and Heart of Darkness opened my eyes to the plights of other cultures.
The way I view my society and the manner in which I interact with others has all been influenced by the words that have filled my mind. Yes, reading has its cognitive benefits. But the power of the written word transcends the scientific. It shapes who we are as individuals. Quite simply, being well-read makes you well-rounded. As Christians, we should read well because books are a glimpse into the human psyche, an illustration of the human condition, a reflection of God’s creation. We should not be satisfied with the simplistic or the passive, but we should be challenged by intellectual pursuits and the joys in the pages of a novel.
So be a page-turning adventurer. Read and read well.
Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she reads Kerouac and Chaucer, paints still life and modern art and loves writing poetry on her vintage typewriter named Ernest. As a writer and champion public speaker, Ciera enjoys sharing her outlook on culture and life through speaking and writing. You can read more on her blog: www.cierahorton.blogspot.com