Reading has at all times and in all ages been a source of knowledge, of happiness, of pleasure and even moral courage. In today’s world with so much more to know and to learn and also the need for a conscious effort to conquer the divisive forces, the importance of reading has increased. In the olden days if reading was not cultivated or encouraged, there was a substitute for it in the religious sermon and in the oral tradition. The practice of telling stories at bed time compensated to some extent for the lack of reading.
In the nineteenth century Victorian households used to get together for an hour or so in the evenings and listen to books being read aloud. But today we not only read, we also want to read more and more and catch up with the events taking place around us. The various courses and classes being conducted in rapid reading support this belief. The amount of reading one should get through is of course nobody’s business. There is no end to it for there is a variety of subjects to read about.
The daily newspaper or the popular magazine while it discusses topical issues and raised controversies, it also provokes thought and throws light on human nature. It brings the news of wars, rebellions, organizations, political stances, heroic deeds etc. , together and helps knit a world of some sort. There is then the serious reading undertaken for research and for satisfying one’s longing for knowledge. It may be a subject of scientific significance, or a subject of historic or philosophic importance – varying according to the taste of the person. This kind of reading disciplines the mind and trains one for critical and original thinking.
There is yet another kind of reading -reading for pleasure. Though serious reading is also a source of pleasure, reading which is devoted mainly to it differs in one respect. It grows upon one, it gives before demanding and it soothes and relieves tension and loneliness. The only kind of reading which neither stimulates thought nor provides knowledge is one which is approached negatively, with the simple motive of escape and of “killing” time. A person who is widely read is able to mix with others: he is a better conversationalist than those who do not read. He can stand his ground.
Reading broadens the vision. it is in a way a substitute for travel. It is not possible to travel as much as one would like to and reading can fill in the gap created by the lack of travel. “Reading”, as Bacon wrote in his essay. ‘Of Studies’. “maketh a full man: conference a ready man: and writing an exact man”. Thus a widely-read man is a better conversationalist and is able to see the other point of view. Literature is a form of art which can cross barriers and if one does not know the language in which a piece of literature is written, one is willing sometimes to learn the language.
Even if one does not learn a language one reads the literary work in translation. This contributes to the growth of understanding and tolerance amongst people. Reading also helps one to see the present in relation to the past and the future, and thus develop a historical perspective. Care is needed to ensure that reading does not become a substitute for real life. The moment one ceases to enjoy the ordinary pleasures and happiness of life and is content to enjoy them vicariously through fictional and historical representations, one loses all the benefits of reading and loses contact with life.
With the cinema and television taking up a great deal of attention of children, teenagers and even adults, the habit of serious reading is dying out. People are content to read abridged versions. see films, go through illustrated comics and be content. But just as reading should not become a substitute for the joy of living or drive out the other forms of entertainment, other substitutes should not be accepted for the pleasure of reading which lies in the act itself. One may be selective, may be discriminating but no one can afford to shut himself off from this rich and ever-growing world of literature.