The Whys, Hows, and Whats of Reading

This is an article by Aritra Ray of Class VIII (2018) on the importance of reading and the ways one can beef up his/her reading skills. 

People say that reading has become a redundant activity nowadays. What’s the use of reading when you can simply watch the YouTube videos, or read an Audible book, or open the TV to get updated on the latest news?

According to that viewpoint, reading is essentially a boring activity— it is what we did when we crammed for our board exams.

Why do we resist reading so much? One reason is, as I mentioned above, reading reminds us of the exams. To most people, reading means reading textbooks, so they hate it.

Another reason is that we are not evolutionarily programmed to read things. Writing was first invented by the Mesopotamians only 5000 years back, which is nothing compared to our 2 million year-long history on this planet; so reading didn’t have the time to become one of our innate skill.

This is why reading is a lot of work for our brains: we have to focus, persist and use our intelligence to make sense of what we read. As a result, most of us shy away from doing it. After all, who doesn’t want to be mentally lazy?

On the other hand, our brains are quite adept at processing images and visuals. But we must understand that text is irrefutably superior compared to images. That’s why we often say a book was better than its movie version. That’s why a long article is often far more insightful than a TV debate.

While images can leave a stronger impression, text can capture subtleties far better than images. As a result, reading helps us to understand things much better, leading to improved awareness and deeper insights. Reason and logic can best flourish through text. Reading makes us considerate and thoughtful, rather than overly sentimental.

Reading also gives us the privilege of exercising our imagination. Not only does it provide us with a brief respite from our daily banal lives, imagination is also the first step towards change and reform; hence it is a valuable resource in the modern world.

But none of these can take place if we don’t practice ‘deep reading’. But how exactly is deep reading different from our normal reading?

Analyzing the information carefully, connecting the text with the things we know, thinking about the text from time to time — all of these constitute deep reading. However, most of us are rather superficial readers. We skim through articles. We prefer quick reading rather than deep assimilation.

For most people, news constitutes most of their reading diet, and most news items are short and shallow – plunging them deeper into the habit of skimming and superficial reading.

So how can we break this habit and get into the practice of deep reading?

A good way to read deeply would be to try to summarize each article after reading it. In case of a novel, we can simply think about what happened after completing every chapter. In the process, there is a high probability of hitting upon a new insight or understanding, which we would have missed if we had read superficially.

However, even to get started on deep reading, we must possess some basic skills:
The Correct Technique: If we read very slowly, we would lose interest in the story and find it tedious. Thus we won’t be inclined to read deeply. So we need to develop improved reading speed. Some ways to improve our speed can be by reading fast-paced books — detective novels and thrillers and by reading subtitles of dialogue-oriented movies.

A Strong Vocabulary: We also need to possess a good vocabulary, otherwise we will frequently stumble on our way, and our understanding will also be limited. And the only way to improve our vocabulary is to diligently check every single unknown word that we encounter.

Relevant Knowledge: Reading does not take place in a vacuum. No matter how fast you read, and how strong is your vocabulary, if you don’t know anything about the world, you will not be able to make sense of what you are reading. So context is very important to gain comprehension. Context can be improved by reading insightful articles and non-fiction books.

Intelligence: Even if we possess the relevant context, we must possess intelligence to connect the reading material to the context. Now intelligence is probably the most difficult thing to improve on. Intelligence can be improved by solving thinking-oriented problems, being exposed to interesting discussions, and reading insightful materials at a young age.

Deep Reading is a can help you go a long way, but you also must choose carefully what you read. Poorly selected reading materials may actually be detrimental for you. Reading celebrity news, reading low-quality fictions, reading WhatsApp forwards and endless Facebook feeds – all of these are useless.

So read a lot, but read wisely.