Books and Reading – Overrated or Not?

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.”

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”

…and on, and on they go.

These are quotes on books and reading that I have heard time and again at various points in the course of my journey. One of the most popular conventions in society is that reading not only makes a person intelligent, but is also the most superior way to absorb knowledge. Growing up, I loved to read anything and everything, and as I had the time for it, reading became my favourite pastime. I devoured multiple books in a single day, and I was praised for it by everyone from my parents, to teachers and friends. “How do you read so much?” they would ask. “I enjoy it.” I would respond, and they would marvel. In retrospect, I understand the feeling of intellectual superiority that may have fostered.

As I have grown, I have had increasingly less time for leisurely reading. I have found that I no longer possess the patience to work through thousands of pages at a go. It disturbed me, and I began to understand better how many of my colleagues might have lived in private shame at that time because they simply did not enjoy reading as much as a “budding intellectual” should, or they simply found books boring.

Read: How to Make Time For Books Outside Academics

Many adults as well read out of professional or academic compulsion and peruse the occasional life-hack article, but really cannot stand reading long pieces of writing. I find that many people are so hesitant to admit these things for the fear that they will be perceived as uninformed and possessing lesser intelligence. Even though they do not enjoy reading, they force themselves to read because we regard reading as the ultimate channel to self-development. 

So I began to think – Are they really any less intelligent or incapable of “moving the world” according to our quotes? Am I really less likely to succeed simply because I do not enjoy this particular activity so much anymore?

I believe that the perception of reading as being superior has stemmed from the notion that it results in a deeper retention of whatever the subject matter is, but I have found that there is actually very little evidence to support that. Retention is an ability that differs among individuals, and we retain information differently through various channels. Most of these quotes, I have found, were made at a time when reading was the only available channel to properly distill and communicate information.

While reading remains relevant, and probably will forever remain so, there are various other channels through which people could gain information and retain it that should not be considered intellectually inferior.

People who retain a lot from reading may demonstrate even higher retention levels from watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts. 

If the goal of retention and eventual self-improvement is achieved, is there really a reason to consider them inferior?

Read: Getting the Most from Self-help Books

This article stemmed from thoughts I had when discussing with a friend, and I would love to hear what you think in the comment section as well!


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