25 Reasons to Read

    • To enlarge your world. Most of us hang around with people similar to ourselves. Reading thrusts us into the company of a wider range of worldviews, values, styles of discourse, and solutions to life’s questions than we’d ever encounter within our own time, space, and social limits.
    • To learn what can’t be learned in other ways. As a Christian, I respond to Jesus partly because he tells stories. Stories (and poems) can compress and layer meaning in nonlinear ways — meaning we need to use our imagination, and not just our rational thought, to access. The dream visions of the Bible are another good example of this.
    • God values it. He created the world by speaking. Then early on, he took great pains to codify his interaction with humanity in a written text — one in which his own son is referred to as “the Word,” and which contains an array of literary genres including poetry, history, myth, and epistolary form. This is the supreme validation of language-based expression.
    • To know yourself better. “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?” asks Thoreau in Walden. We see our own dilemmas, our own selves, even as we enter the imaginative world of some other self, full of other characters.
    • To develop empathy.
    • To test, refine, sharpen your own beliefs against others. To think!
    • To affirm your humanity. Most literary works ask the same kinds of questions, and we find out we’re not alone.
    • To learn a skill.
    • To gain information. (Albert Camus: “After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books.”)
    • To gain wisdom. (Mortimer Adler: “In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”)
    • To build vocabulary.
    • To make conversation.
    • To deepen friendships, if we read communally, meeting on the territory of a book.
    • To keep history honest by reading it through the eyes of those who lived it. (Barbara Tuchman: “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”)
    • To complete the past. George Santayana writes in The Life of Reason, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness… Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Who would choose repetition over improvement? Who wouldn’t hope to make the hard-won wisdom of those who’ve gone before count for something lasting by learning from it?
    • To make friends with geniuses: the great writers offer themselves in their works. They raise us to a new level if we’re willing to work.
    • To learn to listen. Reading, submitting to the text for the purpose of understanding it on its own terms, calls forth our better faculties, our better selves.
    • To rehearse new cognitive pathways — to break out of our habitual thinking by following someone else’s from the first page to the last.
    • To amuse yourself (or others).
    • To escape yourself (or others).
    • To pass the time.
    • To make yourself sleepy at night.
    • To create memories by reading aloud — to children, or whole families.
    • To gain power, subversive or otherwise. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass writes that his owner forbade his wife to teach a slave to read on the grounds that it would “forever unfit him to be a slave.” “I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man,” writes Douglass. “It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom… I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read.”
    • To be transformed.

      Want more? See my list of 25 ways to write about books here.