Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading for Pleasure & Imagination

We read to know that we are not alone.
—C.S. Lewis [1898-1963], English writer, professor & literary critic

There are worse crimes than burning books.
One of them is not reading them.
—Joseph Brodsky [1940-96], Russian-Jewish Nobel laureate in literature

Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book!  A message to us from the dead, - from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.  
—Charles Kingsley [1819-1875], English novelist & historian

One of life's great pleasures is reading books. Whether it is popular fiction, literary novels, non-fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction, reading is not only an act of learning, but also a pleasure that carries you far through life's difficulties. To read and to love reading, particularly imaginative literature, will often dictate how successful an integrated human you will become.

In How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale University, explains both reading's importance and its pleasures:
Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness.
Reading early and young fosters a life-long love of books. I have instilled in my children a love of books. So far, two of my children are reading, and reading without much encouragement from me. My youngest two-year-old is not yet reading, but he is surrounded by books, his children's books that we read to him regularly, and my books, which when he's older, he's welcome to dip into.

Victor Hugo [1882-85], French novelist and playwright:“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” (circa 1884).
Reading carries many advantages, notably improving one's vocabulary, speech and critical thinking. And if literature is your love, you gain access to a rich literary language. Of course, many academics in today's humanities and English literature departments, focused on modern literary theories, take a dim view on reading for enjoyment and fun.

There might be another reason why reading is important, Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University, explains: "Babies are born with the instinct to speak, the way spiders are born with the instinct to spin webs. You don't need to train babies to speak; they just do. But reading is different." In other words, someone has teach children how to read, and how to instill a love of reading and books in children. The sooner the better, I would think.

One of my favourite quotes from Dr. Seuss is: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Reading allows travelling on a budget. Reading allows exploring other words, to imagine yourself elsewhere. Reading fiction allows you to imagine without worrying whether you have the right answer.

With so many clear advantages, including the sheer pleasure of opening a book (or computer), and to learn something new, reading offers so much, including discovery, says Clifton Fadiman, the noted writer and critic: "When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before."