The Relevance of Reading

Reading is gaining in relevance.

In an information-saturated world, reading becomes more important, not less.

But not just any reading.

Why reading is so important

A few years ago, I was at my beloved Library of Congress’s National Book Festival. I stood at the edge of the stage where philanthropist David Rubinstein was interviewing presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin.

He asked her what the greatest threat to democracy is in our current world. Her answer?

The refusal of the public to read long-form journalism.

We scroll too much, and it’s putting our entire system of democracy in jeopardy.

It’s putting our children’s education in jeopardy, too, because adults aren’t the only ones not willing to read things worth reading.

I don’t mean their education in the sense of will they graduate from high school. I mean their true education – their path toward full personhood.

Fran Lebowitz’s advice is sound.

In both our personal and educational lives, critical thinking is the key to virtually everything, and reading must precede that thinking unless we only want our own thinking to be our only thinking. (note: that is the recipe for cognitive disaster)

Why read quality books

In his article on how to read books above your level, Ryan Holiday makes some compelling arguments for the why, not just how, of reading challenging literature.

What do I mean by quality or challenging books? I mean books that ask more of you than a beach chair and a beverage. I mean books that ask you to pause, to think, to re-read passages, to look up a couple of words, to talk with someone about them. Those books. Both fiction and non-fiction do this.

Here are some of my ideas supporting the notion that you should read quality books:

  • We need the ideas of others.
  • If we don’t read books with the power to grow and change us, we will be at the mercy of forces we have not chosen to influence our growth.
  • Reading is a conversation with the world, and we should keep that conversation broad and diverse.
  • Reading books that challenge our thinking ensures that our thinking will not become stale.
  • Connecting ideas is the essence of creativity, and quality books make that more likely.
  • Growing our vocabulary is one of the ways older brains get smarter, and we do that by reading challenging books.

What other people say

  • “If we encounter a man of strong intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
  • “Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” – John Green

Why it’s important for gifted children

Reading is brain food, so why would we feed strong brains a diet of only weak food with no power to really feed them?

Gifted children are often strong readers.

My middle son told me, “Giving me books is like giving wood to a fire.” Anyone who’s spent good money on books for presents to a voracious reader knows this dynamic.

Yet, many gifted readers almost exclusively read things that are beneath their ability. I don’t mean their lexile. I mean their thinking level.

I’m not saying that they can’t read books for enjoyment, but I am saying that they should also, from a young age, read books that make them think, books of power, books that are change agents. The thing is, they will enjoy those, too.

These will be picture books when they are younger. I’m not saying four-year-olds need to read Marcus Aurelius. Although…

Gifted children and adults can become barnacle-like in their thinking, adhering themselves to ideas that they embrace too strongly.

Deep, quality reading makes them more open to the ideas of others. I posit that that makes them more open to the ideas of others’ spoken words as well. It is quite possible that reading quality books will make students better at listening to others’ ideas with an open mind in class.

Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

We can build our gifted learners by expanding their reading lives.

It’s for everyone

And it’s not just gifted learners. My parents founded the Remann Hall Book Club for youth in juvenile detention, and these kids have often never read a book in their lives. If you look at the list of what they read, though, you’d never guess that.

One reader wrote, “Thank you for a lovely few months of books and reading and helping me become a better person inside.” Not every book can do this.

Read more about Remann Hall Book Club. Scroll down to see the quotes from the readers. They will move you.

Deep Focus

This year, I didn’t set resolutions. I just embraced this phrase: deep focus. I’m focusing more deeply on the things that matter in my personal, professional, and spiritual life. Part of this is a deep focus on what I’m reading and the way in which I’m reading.

If we give ourselves the gift of reading well, it is a gift we give to the world as well because the world needs quality thinkers.

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Credit: The photo in the cover image is by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

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