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On The Timeless Art of Reading: Books Are Our Superpower

June 19th is National Reading Day. So, how did this day come about? The day was constituted in remembrance of P.N.Panicker, the Keralite who was, and continues to be fondly known as the ‘Father of the Library Movement’ in the state. According to a report in The Times of India, “In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared P.N.Panicker’s death anniversary as National Reading Day in India”. Moreover, the month of July is  celebrated as the National Reading Month. Since 1996, the Kerala-based P.N. Panicker Foundation has been instrumental in promoting the observation of “national reading day, reading week and reading month”. As we remember the truly visionary leader for having inspired the love of reading and education, we need to understand that reading is not just a habit- it's a way of life and living. In today’s fast-paced digital world, our concentration spans have plummeted to an abysmal low. We consume images and infographics, and seldom pay attention to textual content. We thrive in atmospheres that can provide instant gratification. However, while the world around us can change and evolve to whatever extent, reading is an art that will always remain a timeless necessity. Frederick Douglass had once famously said: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”. Liberation is just one of the countless life-changing benefits that reading brings along with it. 

Reading provides us with fresh perspectives. There are a mind-boggling number of books in every genre, be it sports, biography, fiction, non-fiction or history. Upon reading different books across genres, the reader will be enriched with information, hitherto unknown, that will subsequently equip the reader with a new way of looking at things. In this regard, reading is also crucial for the development of a thinking mind. While reading, readers are constantly navigating through people, places, situations and facts, and to do all this requires a substantial amount of cerebral activity. As we read, we also think. This ability to think is a wonderful skill, and it's one that can be used across all walks of life. 

Reading helps greatly in cultivating soft skills. While many studies have demonstrated how reading can help improve an individual’s writing skills, vocabulary, and even transform them into a better conversationalist, there is a lot more that a habit of reading at regular intervals can accomplish. In 2019, a BBC Future study titled Does Reading Fiction Make Us Better People? yielded some really interesting results. They found that reading fiction made people more empathetic, improved their social cognition and the ability to understand other people, and has also led to improvements in their overall behaviour. Additionally, reading has also been helpful in cultivating traits like patience and a refined moral sense. 

The health benefits of reading are astounding. This is a benefit that all ardent readers have experienced, and they are all the more better because of it. Reading is very effective in reducing stress levels, thanks to the brilliant escape routes books can provide from the harsh realities of everyday life. Reading is an excellent method to exercise the mind, which in turn improves wellness and reduces the risk of neurological disorders. The pandemic has created a massive mental health crisis across the world, and many psychologists and therapists are endorsing reading as a way to combat mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and loneliness. Bibliotherapy has become increasingly popular, while being a more accessible, affordable and democratic way of healing. The health benefits of reading can be extended to include ensuring an interruption-free sleep and reduced blood pressure levels. However, the biggest flex of all? Reading increases the longevity of life. In her article, Madison Yauger writes that “a study of 3600 participants showed that book readers lived about two years longer than non-book readers”. 

Reading can lead to the formation of strong and meaningful relationships. This is a rather controversial, yet, personal opinion. People with similar tastes in books and a shared love for reading, have the opportunity to form a meaningful relationship. Book Clubs are good examples of the same, as they are communities that thrive on the shared passion for reading. While similar interests in anything between people is bound to translate into better relationships, it is yet another golden star in favour of reading books. 

Reading Books, for many, is a life-changing experience. Every reader is bound to have a book that changed their life completely. When J.K. Rowling emerged as the literary world’s mega-superstar with her Harry Potter series, many young people credited Harry for having given them the courage and hope to continue living, despite the challenges. Many writers have themselves spoken in favour of the life-changing ability of books. Books help us learn from the experiences of others, and the lessons learnt can go a long way in helping us wade through similar situations in real-life. Books can help us find what we’re looking for, even if we don’t know it ourselves. 

It is an immortal passion. Sportspersons have to retire at a certain point in their lives, irrespective of their love for the game. Most hobbies and passions come with a shelf-life, or, are at a threat of completely disappearing due to technology’s advances. Like music, reading is a passion for an entire lifetime. There will always, always be books. Books can defy boundaries, pandemics and wars. Books are non-extinguishable resources. Books have evolved- from parchments to paperbacks to ebooks to audiobooks. Books are resilient and enduring entities, and so is the habit of reading them. As the saying goes- “Till death do us part”. 

Reading is a power, one that has empowered so many visionaries, leaders and movements. While reading is an art that needs a lot of dedication, practise and passion, it's never too late to cultivate a love for reading. There are many apps that help people find the right book to get them started (like Goodreads). There are online communities that churn mind blowing curated book-lists that are incredibly hard to resist. There are book clubs to help people grow as they read, while encouraging them to share their passion with people who care. If time is a constraint, audiobooks are here for the rescue. No matter what, books will always wait patiently for you. They are as faithful as anything or any person can ever be. 

Our world was shaped by revolutions. The Industrial Revolution, The French Revolution, The Green Revolution. As we try to rebuild our homes, communities and nations, we need deep thinking. And reading is the best way to achieve that. Perhaps, it is time for a ‘Read Revolution’? 


“He that loves reading has everything within his reach” - William Godwin


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