Kevin Thomas is the Editor-in-Chief for the Newswire. He is a senior philosophy and English double major from St. Louis.
Reading is overrated.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an English major and I have more books than I know what to do with, but the way people talk about reading makes it out to be something much more than it actually is.
In the previous issue of the Newswire, there was an opinion piece extolling the benefits of reading and pushing people to learn to love leisurely reading. I am writing this because I disagree: Reading is not for everyone, nor should it be. Additionally, most of the benefits that the writer notes — such as an increased vocabulary, better critical thinking skills, feelings of leisure and a stimulated imagination — can all be reaped through any manner of activities.
The first objection that I will make is on the idea that everyone should be reading. Not everyone enjoys reading. Not everyone has to enjoy reading.
Personally, I love to read. However, I find it extremely difficult to read novels. I prefer reading poems because, for the most part, they’re shorter and I can spend more time focusing on the intimate details.
But that’s me. I have more friends than I can count who love watching TV and are fascinated by film.
They might not read as much as the author of last week’s article does, but watching a TV show with someone who’s interested in film is fascinating simply because of the details that they notice. They might say something about the lighting in a certain scene, the lens that’s being used on a camera, or any number of technological components that I would never notice. Moreover, they would say this in a vocabulary that I do not have.
This person would not just be gaining a larger lexicon because of their interest in the field of film, but they also access a level of critical thinking and interpretation different from a simply literary understanding. Part of the human condition is needing narrative and appreciating stories that are told. Writing is a fairly new form of narrative, and the ability to understand a narrative that we can see, e.g. on a TV screen, requires a different type of critical thinking. It requires the application of more interpersonal understandings, focus on vocal intonation and body language. It also requires the ability to think critically about the way that light is used, and requires people to pay attention to all of the sounds that are present.
When thinking about watching TV like this, it starts to look like it requires more work to be put into it than it would seem at the beginning.
Reading on its own does nothing. I could read 10,000 books and not be any better off than if I had laid on the ground and stared at a cloud for 10,000 hours. The value that the writer says he received from his time reading was imbued in the activity through his attention and focus. It was because he reads intentionally, he places meaning into the activity, that he is able to get the benefits.
The act of doing anything with intention is what makes it magical and beneficial to use in everyday life. However, making something intentional can make it seem like it’s work because it’s not something that you’re doing mindlessly.
The act of doing something intentionally can still be a kind of leisure. Doing something with focus can still be an act of leisure. Leisure is defined as the use of free time for enjoyment, so as long as the activity that you are doing is something you enjoy, it is an act of leisure. So do what you like. But do it intentionally and pay attention when you are doing something.