Thursday, 21 May 2009


I discovered the joy of reading during my young tender years. Till this day, reading remains my favourite past time. 

The following article on Reading is another of those articles which I came across ages ago. It is a well thought out article expounding the benefits of reading. Worth a read although you may find it a bit long. 

On reading profitably 

There are many different motives for reading. We may seek knowledge, relaxation, comfort, background, inspiration, or something that will enable us to compose all these into a way of life. 

The accumulated factual knowledge of the past few hundred generations of human beings is too great to be acquired through experience in a lifetime. We must take it vicariously from books. Books push out the boundaries of our ignorance, factually into the past and speculatively into the future. 

Consider this – we have only three ways of evaluating human existence: the study of self, which is the most dangerous and most difficult method, though often the most fruitful; the observation of our fellow men, who may hide their most revealing secrets from us; and books, which, with all their errors of perspective and judgment, are constant, detailed and always at our beck and call. 

It is interesting and useful to read how crises similar to our own in form, though perhaps not in magnitude, were handled by our predecessors. Books unroll the great scroll of history so that things that are remote in time and place help us to judge things that are near at hand today. 

Reading is one of the most effective means of getting away from disturbing and unalterable circumstances. Intimate association with noble works, literary, philosophic, artistic, is a promoter of thought, a refuge from almost all the miseries of life. 

Books are good for us because they tend to shake us up. Our environment is confusing. It is made up of a angle of complicated notions, in the midst of which individuals are inclined to sit apathetically. Scientific date fall upon us every day until we suffocate with uncoordinated facts; our minds are overwhelmed with discoveries which we do not understand and therefore fear. 

What we find in books can make us look again at things we have taken for granted, and question them; it can arouse us to appreciate once more the ideas and ideals that are being stifled under the flow of technical marvels. If a book moves us to thought, even to angry thought, the chances are that it is doing us a good turn. 

Consider also the benefit of good reading to the person who seeks ability in self-expression. The woman who wishes to excel in conversation and the man who must make his letters and orders clear: both these need to read wisely. 

From whence come the quotations we run across continually in conversation, correspondence, public addresses and articles? 

We are not interested in reading as critics, but as humans beings in search of some human values. If a book gives you the feeling that you are being inspired, informed, helped, or entertained, never mind what anybody else says about it, it is good. 

Reading furnishes the tools and material to take us out of blind-alley conversation. But it goes further. It advances our prospect of getting out of the routine of our profession, business or art. 

The person who reads wisely and widely often finds that he has the enormous advantage of knowing more about his subject than others do. Knowledge builds self-confidence and self-reliance. 

It is true that knowledge is not necessarily a good in itself; it needs to be assimilated by the intellect and the imagination before it becomes positively valuable. We are wise to soak ourselves in as many facts and ideas as we can, so that our minds have material with which to work. 

Books will provide us with the material information we can use to answer vital questions. When we are puzzled as to why human beings behave as they do we cannot find the answer in our surroundings but in the long perspective of history. 

A person reading well-selected books becomes a denizen of all nations, a contemporary of all ages. In books one meets all kinds of people, the wisest, the wittiest and the tenderest. 

Whether you read Jane Austen, dealing with her little community of country gentlefolk, clergymen and middle-class persons, or Somerset Maugham, ranging over the world and an infinity of characters, you are adding to your own experience that of others. You tend to became many-sided and to take large view. You expand your range of pleasures; your taste grows supple and flexible. 

Selection of books to read is highly personal. Whatever the learned may say in praise of a book, it is not for you unless you can get interested in it. And literature suited to desolate islands my not be the thing at all for reading on a bus or train or airplane, or at a lunch counter. 

One guide can be stated without equivocation: if you want to be vitalized into the power of thinking real thoughts; if you wish to be qualified to debate the issues of the day; then resolutely leave out whatever is not of the best. 

Some of the books we choose will not be crammed full of information, but are valuable because they contain exquisite nosegays of wisdom. Some will not deal with details but with principles, and principles are the most hardy, convertible, operable and usable species of literary property. 

The ‘great’ books are not made great because someone names them so, but because they contain lessons for all times. In them we find the accumulated thought of mankind, a rich inheritance, a transcription of a distinguished conversation across the ages. A great book does not speak to a lonely and sympathetic figure here and there, but to a whole world. 

Some of the great books are classics, a word that stands for the books that have worn best. They appeal to the minds of people of all sorts, and they remain significant, or acquire a new significance, in new ages. 

Every department of literature has its own contribution to make to our welfare and happiness. Poetry sets down in winged words the things we think and feel but cannot say. When you read poetry you are broadening your facility in the use of language and increasing your ability to say things in different and more attractive ways. 

Prose fills more books, and it is the common way of communicating ideas. We lose something if we do not go back to some of its earlier forms, like letters and essays, for both interest and entertainment. Essays are important sources of idea-starters, whether they are gentle, witty and seductive, or rude and quarrelsome. 

“In spite of our protestations that we are ‘too busy’ to do any serious reading, we might as well honestly admit that it is .. either because we do not organize our time to fit in reading, or that we do not utilize our odd hours.” - Robert Updegraff. 

There may be people who honestly believe that they are too important, and too occupied with affairs, to spend time with books. But reading may be the most important thing they could do in life; upon their reading may depend the continued success of their undertakings; upon it certainly rests their mental well-being. 

We do not need to sit down with a book for two or three hours in order to read effectively. If we spend just fifteen minutes a day, you can read twenty average length books between January 1st and December 31st. 

There is no other occupation which you can more easily take up at any moment, for any period, and more easily put aside when other duties press upon you. 

All wise thoughts have been written already thousands of times, but to make them truly ours we must think about them as we read. How does the opinion or belief expressed by the author square with ours? Even a statement that seems to offend our common sense may be worth thinking about. Indeed, it may be worth more than the sum of many notions with which we agree. 

As we read, we should ask questions. It is questions, not answers that keep the mind alive. Our questions will start trains of thought, awaken our reasoning, bring our judgment into play, and make our experience of life fuller and more interesting. 

One is never at the end of reading. What we know is still infinitely less than all that still remains unknown. We continue to welcome information and ideas, always wondering as we climb successive hills “What lies beyond?” 

Reading is not an exercise or an act of penance, but something that holds for us the assurance of a better way of life. There are no formal educational requirements for admission to the reading elite. You just start reading; reserve the time necessary, and go on from book to book. 

- Extracted from the Royal Bank of Canada Monthly Letter. 

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