The value of reading

By Henrylito D. Tacio
“Reading,” Sir Richard Steele once said, “is to mind what exercise is to the body.”  Jeremy Collier (1650-1726) had the same view in his mind when he remarked:  “A man may as well expect to grow stronger by always eating as wiser by always reading.”
But why do we really need to read? 
“Reading sweeps the cobwebs away,” an American friend told me.  What does this mean?  “Reading,” he explained, “enhances thinking.  It stretches and strains our mental muscles.  It clobbers our brittle, narrow, intolerant opinions with new ideas and strong facts.  It stimulates growing up instead of growing old.”
How true, indeed, were the words of Francis Bacon when he declared: “Read not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weight and consider.  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
In other words, reading expands us.  It scratches those itches down deep inside.  As John Berger puts it, “When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.”
Reading navigates us through virgin territo­ry we would not otherwise explore. “Reading makes us more interesting to be around,” says another fellow.  Have you ever wonder why the boredom factor in social gatherings is so great?  After you’ve run through the weather, the kids, the job, and your recent surgery, what else is there?
Being a reader adds oil to the friction in conversation.  Here are some words of wisdom from the mouth of C. Neil Strait, a famous American author:  “The hours spent in reading are invest­ments in tomorrow.  For reading sends us into the future with a great reservoir of knowledge from which we can draw at various times.”
Strait adds that reading is one good way to keep boredom from closing in upon life.  “Reading introduces new people, new ideas, and new events into life.  And boredom is a stranger to the new, exciting things,” he declares.
Reading is an arduous chore, some of you may remark.  What you are really trying to say is that you’re slothful to read. Thomas Carlyle reminds, “Learn to be good readers, which is perhaps a more difficult thing than you imagine. Learn to be discriminative in your reading; to read faithfully, and with your best attention, all kinds of things which you have a real interest in – a real, not an imaginary – and which you find to be really fit for what you are engaged in.”
But you can be a good reader – if you want to.  Allow me to give you some ideas:
First of all, maintain a healthful routine.  This simply means that to read at your best, you should be in good physical condition.  Most of us read only when we are confined in the hospital or when we are stranded in an island. 
One good thing to remember:  Do not strain your eyes by reading in poor light or for excessively long periods.  If you have not had an eye examination for some time, you should have one now.  And if you are abnormally and frequently tired, arrange to have a physical condition.
When reading, avoid unnecessary distractions.  Some people I know have trained themselves to read in noisy surroundings.  Most persons, however, find it easier to read in an atmosphere of quiet, away from disturbing sights and sounds.  Quiet music on the radio usually will not interfere – in fact, it is rather an asset than a liability – but most other programs are likely to reduce reading efficiency.
Have a clean objective for your reading.  Why do you read?  And why do you read that that kind of book?  When you turn the printed page, you should have in mind a clear purpose for read­ing.  Just saying the words silently while your mind is else­where, or when you have no goal for your reading, is a waste of time.
Ask questions while you’re reading; reach out for the answers.  Reading is an active process, not a passive one.  When you read a short story or a novel, for instance, try to ask yourself:  “What will happen next?  What will May do; now that June has left her?”  When you read a description of a scene, read in order to visualize it in your mind, to fill in the missing details.  Make the printed page your servant; do not let it be your master.
Your aim in reading will determine how you read.  In some instances, as with an easy story, you will read rapidly, perhaps skipping passages that are not too relevant.  At other times, as with a history book, you will read slowly, with careful attention to every detail presented or otherwise you will overlook some necessary information.
“They that have read about everything are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with the materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections – we must chew them over again,” William Ellery Channing advises.
Finally, get the habit of reading widely.  You can improve you reading ability only by reading profusely.  Get the habit of reading a great deal.  You may wish to start with a facile material – with the daily newspaper, a popular magazine like Reader’s Digest, or a book of easy short stories. 
As you acquire fluency and pleasure in reading, try some­thing complex.  Pick an encyclopedia article dealing with a subject that really fascinates you – hunting or fishing, elec­tronics and computers, motion pictures, arts and sciences, or some similar topics.
Try also to scan the pages of a novel that calls for more than customary effort to read – like Gone With The Wind, The Good Earth, or some other that your friends highly recommend.  Have patience with the book; do not give up after the first few pages.  Stay with it for several chapters until you know definitely whether or not you like it.  Probably you will find yourself enjoying it.
“It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best,” Richard Baxter points out. “And it is not possible to read over many on the same subject without a great deal of loss of precious time.”
When you read, don’t just read but think as well.  John Locke reminds, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”
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