I used to hate reading. Whenever one of my teachers in high school or middle school gave the class assigned reading during the school year or over the summer, I would stick up my nose at the idea as my brow crinkled in disgust.
I hated the idea of someone forcing me to read something in a restricted period of time, and pressuring me to get the same meaning out of it as they did.
According to an article in The New Yorker, “Books mean different things to different people– or different things to the same person…”
After I was finished with high school, I swore to myself I would never read a book again. (Not even a college textbook, because no one ever actually uses them anyway). After going through probably one of the worst, most damaging times of my life, I finally picked up another book… probably because I had no where else to turn.
I transferred all of my toxic emotions from being depressed into the world of fiction. I completely immersed myself into the lives of others through each flip of the page because I was having too much trouble dealing with my own troubles.
“… we are dedicated to fiction as the ultimate cure because it gives readers a transformational experience.”
Before this rut in my life, I never realized how truly therapeutic reading could be and how much power it could have in restoring my damaged self after suffering from such bereavement. I found something new to sustain me into a path of transcendence. This elusive state I was in made me lose all sense of self, splitting me into two egos whenever I got lost in the world of fiction.
Reading anything, not just fiction, can help someone develop a perpetual union with the characters therein and at the time the book is set back down, it feels as though you have just self-medicated.
“…when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.”
Immersing yourself into a fictional character’s life allows you to walk a mile in another person’s shoes for a while, permitting you to forego your own problems for just a moment. And in this, you start to develop a sense of compassion for others. You dive into the mind of another character, understanding how they think, feel and respond to various situations to the point that when you escape that reality and slide back into your own, you have a better comprehension of how others may think, feel and respond to situations in real life.
“Literary art can improve social abilities… can move us emotionally, and can prompt changes of selfhood.”
“Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers but on minds: a simulation of selves in their interactions with others in the social world… based in experience, and involving being able to think of possible futures… they give us a chance to rehearse interactions with others in the world, without doing any lasting damage.”
“Readers sometimes ‘respond with greater empathy to an unreal situation and characters because of the protective fictionality’… which ‘allows a refreshing escape from ordinary, everyday pressures.'”
Reading allowed me to heal over an extended period of time. It forced me to realize there are problems much greater than my own, and that everyone deals with suffering of some sort in life. It made me realize that no matter how big my problems are, I would be able to move forward with time. It allowed me to amplify my social experience beyond the bounds of my personal account. Literary art is the closest thing to reality we can re-create with full control without imposing the actual ruptures reality can have.
For anyone who thinks they hate reading, I’ve been there. I get it. When you’re in school, being forced to read every day, you grow tired and annoyed. But trust me, one day, you may enjoy it again. Just remember to not forget about the imaginative state reading recreationally can bring when you are lost in life’s translations. Plus, as Dr. Seuss once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”