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Mar 31, 2010

Read a Book

Reading is an activity that many Americans take for granted. We read in school and then go on with our lives. In an article by the Washington Post from 2007, the found at least a quarter of us don't even finish a single book each year. Some of these adults value reading. They believe that reading and literacy rates are important and that there are benefits that come from reading. Despite this, they still spend a whole year, or even multiple years never picking up a book.

Reading makes a difference.

When children see adults reading they are more willing to read. Making a difference in the lives of children has long been considered one of the best ways to affect the future. This is why there is always increasing pressure and responsibility on schools, but I'll leave that discussion for another post. Children take cues from their environment as to who they want to be and what habits they want to take on. If a child does not see adults reading, they will equate reading with school and likely drop the habit after it is no longer needed to pass. My nephew became interested in books when he had adults in his life who would take time to read. He wanted to know what was so special about them.

Reading increases vocabulary. According the the University of Oregon's CTL site on Big Ideas in Beginning Reading, vocabulary varies widely with the medium used to convey information. Most of the article deals with vocabulary development in children but the last chart on the page deals with vocabulary exposure of a variety of sources. College graduates talking with their friends use about 17.3 rare words per 1000 and adult TV shows average 22.7 rare words per 1000. By reading you get more practice with vocabulary than you do by listening. Even reading a kid's book will get you 30.9 rare words per 1000. You may wonder why I care about vocabulary. I care about vocabulary like I care about my health. It doesn't always matter and I don't always need it. Every so often it matters a lot. You may decide you really care about an issue and write to your representative. You may find yourself in a conversation with someone who has a lot more schooling than you. The better your grasp on vocabulary, the more comfortable you will feel in these situations and the easier it will be to express your point of view.

Reading fiction and poetry can be is good for your emotions. In this chaotic world we all need a chance to relax and escape. There are many ways to do this. Some of us exercise, some take a bath, some of us indulge in behaviors we regret later. Reading fiction and poetry can give your mind a chance to separate from the stress factors in your life for a quick breather. For people who feel life getting monotonous it can be an escape because the story is always moving forward and the poetry can always be new. With new stimulus your brain can rejuvenate. New stimulus also allows your brain to draw new connections so you may find yourself more creative in your problem solving or even having a more rewarding dream life.

Reading non-fiction is good for your holistic understanding of the world. In this Internet culture we are used to skimming and searching for tidbits of information to back up our perspective and finding it within a couple minutes. We don't take the time to get the background information that informs the topic. Even when we do take the time for a cohesive work in the form of an article or a news program there are significant time and space restraints. Only in a book do we really allow the time and space necessary to truly explore a topic. The more I read non-fiction the more I understand the world I live in. Understanding is an important step on the road to creating the change I want to see.

Reading increases patience, perseverance, focus and memory. Memes fly around the world at the speed of cable and are forgotten within a month (that is, until our aging parents find them a year or two later). While many of us suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, most of us are not helping matters by allowing the skill of maintaining attention to atrophy. It would be interesting to see what percentage of readers even get to this part of the article. It takes work to read a whole article or book. That work is rewarded with better understanding and better ability to focus. Patience, perseverance, focus and memory are all skills that fall in the "use it or lose it" category. Once you've lost it, it is hard work to get back but it can be done. Start small. Read for 10 minutes straight each day. Even one book a year can have a positive impact. That can be a chapter a month. If you are already doing this, consider upping your commitment. Stretch yourself.

Reading makes a difference.This week's idea can help you gain transferable skills in patience, perseverance, focus, memory, and vocabulary. It can help you relax, trigger creativity, and help you understand your world. It can also inspire others, especially children, to read.

I value comments. Feel free to give me constructive criticism, start a conversation, discuss your reading habits or lack thereof, state your goals, suggest books, or just say, "Hi."