Call me biased; I work at a public library. But I think that books and reading continue to have great value in our society and our lives.
I am a voracious reader, I must say. I can read a short novel in little over a day when I get around to it. And I am not the only person around me who spends time reading. Look around, and people can be seen reading everywhere: at Starbucks or the library, while on the bus, or scattered around college campuses.
In my experience, there are many people reading now, and if anything, that number seems to be increasing. Yes, Borders is gone. But Amazon’s Kindle and other e-Readers’ sales have skyrocketed (I am not one of those people against e-Readers), as have many traditional books.
Websites that let users rate and look for books, such as Goodreads, have become very popular. A simple search on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins on the site contains nearly 300,000 ratings and reviews. That so many readers not only read the book, but went to a website to rate and comment on the book, is testament to the power of novels.
Here is a list of some reasons why reading (newspaper, books, etc.), while not only fun, is beneficial to a life in the modern world:
1.) You can keep up with world events. This sounds obvious for newspapers- because it is obvious. Without The New York Times or the Associated Press, et. al it would be extraordinarily harder for other news media (radio, television) to gather information. Newspapers can lay out systematically all the events happening around the world and around the street. Online newspapers are great, but newspapers are not going to last financially online-only. Besides, I seem to recall a study that said that news-consumers retain information better by reading rather than watching news.
2.) You can improve your vocabulary. I was reading something by Henry David Thoreau and was confused by a word he used: Epaulet. What? I looked it up and it is an ornamental shoulder strap used in military uniforms. Also, many non-fiction books such as a science encyclopedia will open you up to many scientific jargon that is surprisingly useful. For example, I read a physics book that discussed a tesseract. A few days later, that same object was featured in the new Captain America movie and I had a better understanding of it than the average viewer. Might as well improve your vocabulary!
3.) You can be transported into a new world. Not only does this apply to science-fiction and fantasy novels, but also: mystery/thriller, historical fiction, and poetry. There is a reason Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, Winnie the Pooh and The Odyssey have become popular. It is because the journey to a new, mysterious world captivates the audience, who uses their imagination to create their own perceptions of a variety of rich characters. The writers of these novels, both modern and ancient, are true masters at seeing the world and recreating it in written form.
4.) You can gain a better understanding of the world and human nature. That is, you can witness different moral and philosophical dilemmas and triumphs humans face. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger is about the power of love that transcends space and time. Other novels can show the dark side of human nature, that can really bring out some thought-provoking situations.
5.) You can talk about the great literary classics and actually know what you are talking about. That is why I am currently reading Foyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. You can read the Sherlock Holmes stories and see how the new Robert Downey Jr. movie (while good) is does not display all of Holmes’ and Watson’s personality traits. You can read John Steinbeck to look back on what California used to look like. You can read a Shakespeare play and drop all those annoying quotes like everyone else.
6.) You can get a glimpse into how other people think. Read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day to get a journal-style soliloquy by an English butler about why he, a perfect butler, must do all he can for his employer to keep up the English dignity for the world. Or you can read a book about someone from another country that you do not know much about, like Africa or Asia.
7.) You can relax. Get lost in a good book. Just read for 30 minutes a day and get away from the television and its reality-TV allures. Your work matters little when you are visualizing a Special Operations behind-enemy-lines mission by Tom Clancy.
8.) You can find cool quotes. A great writer can be a great artist. And a poet even more so. You can find humorous quotes or quotes that display something about the human condition. Here is an example:
“How can a great and wise civilization have destroyed itself so completely?”
“Perhaps,” said Apollo, “by being materially great and materially wise, and nothing else.”
The above quote comes from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller where two characters, years after a nuclear war destroyed the earth, are talking about it.
I could go on with others, such as reading can make you smarter, etc. but I hope that I made my point. Reading has many benefits and in no way is outdated in the 21st-century world. In fact, it is more relevant than every.
Consider: The modern world contains things that, void of books, would be almost useless.
For example, here’s a few at random:
1.) Ballistic missiles: without manuals and training, the makers could not manufacture them. And without the mathematical formulas and scientific laws being employed the missiles would not work and would never have been invented.
2.) Star Wars: George Lucas, its creator, was influenced by a variety of sources, among them a book about mythology by Joseph Campbell, who came up with an idea of the monomyth, that most myths have a certain underlying structure of the hero’s journey. Lucas incorporated this with the story of Luke Skywalker.
3.) Many other classic movies: Here is a list of books that later became movies: The Godfather; Star Wars (apparently the first Star Wars novel was published in 1976, six months before the movie premiere, so Star Wars gets on this list twice); The Lord of the Rings; The English Patient; the Bond movies; Gone with the Wind; and the Wizard of Oz. The list goes on even more than I thought, however. Who knew that The Shawshank Redemption and Schindler’s List were books first?
My point is that books continue to hold value. A great novel can display the greatest power humans have: Being able to create something out of our minds. And people young and old have realized that. From Plato recording his mentor Socrates’s philosophy to medieval monks copying minute details of The Bible to John Locke penning his famous treatise on human rights, the written word has steered the world mightily.
But will it continue to do so? Yes, I would say so. Just look at Goodreads, the book website that lets users rate books that I mentioned earlier. It averages thousands of daily visits. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has 30,000 ratings from users. That is pretty good, considering the book’s original 1854 publishing ran at 2,000 copies (according to the Manhattan Rare Book Company).
That a book still manages to thrive after so long, and so many debates, is a great reminder of the power of books. Cheers to many more years, and many more debates.