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The Value of Reading by Henrylito D.


“Reading,” Sir Richard Steele once said, “is to mind what exercise is to the body.” Jeremy Collier
(1650-1726) had the same view in his mind when he remarked: “A man may as well expect to grow
stronger by always eating as wiser by always reading.”

But why do we really need to read?

“Reading sweeps the cobwebs away,” an American friend told me. What does this mean? “Reading,”
he explained, “enhances thinking. It stretches and strains our mental muscles. It clobbers our brittle,
narrow, intolerant opinions with new ideas and strong facts. It stimulates growing up instead of
growing old.”

How true, indeed, were the words of Francis Bacon when he declared: “Read not to contradict or
confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weight and
consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and

In other words, reading expands us. It scratches those itches down deep inside. As John Berger puts
it, “When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is
to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the
story’s voice makes everything its own.”

Reading navigates us through virgin territory we would not otherwise explore. “Reading makes us
more interesting to be around,” says another fellow. Have you ever wonder why the boredom factor
in social gatherings is so great? After you’ve run through the weather, the kids, the job, and your
recent surgery, what else is there?

Being a reader adds oil to the friction in conversation. Here are some words of wisdom from the
mouth of C. Neil Strait, a famous American author: “The hours spent in reading are investments in
tomorrow. For reading sends us into the future with a great reservoir of knowledge from which we
can draw at various times.”

Strait adds that reading is one good way to keep boredom from closing in upon life. “Reading
introduces new people, new ideas, and new events into life. And boredom is a stranger to the new,
exciting things,” he declares.

Reading is an arduous chore, some of you may remark. What you are really trying to say is that
you’re slothful to read. Thomas Carlyle reminds, “Learn to be good readers, which is perhaps a more
difficult thing than you imagine. Learn to be discriminative in your reading; to read faithfully, and
with your best attention, all kinds of things which you have a real interest in – a real, not an imaginary
– and which you find to be really fit for what you are engaged in.”
But you can be a good reader – if you want to. Allow me to give you some ideas:

First of all, maintain a healthful routine. This simply means that to read at your best, you should be in
good physical condition. Most of us read only when we are confined in the hospital or when we are
stranded in an island.
One good thing to remember: Do not strain your eyes by reading in poor light or for excessively long
periods. If you have not had an eye examination for some time, you should have one now. And if
you are abnormally and frequently tired, arrange to have a physical condition.

When reading, avoid unnecessary distractions. Some people I know have trained themselves to read
in noisy surroundings. Most persons, however, find it easier to read in an atmosphere of quiet, away
from disturbing sights and sounds. Quiet music on the radio usually will not interfere – in fact, it is
rather an asset than a liability – but most other programs are likely to reduce reading efficiency.

Have a clean objective for your reading. Why do you read? And why do you read that that kind of
book? When you turn the printed page, you should have in mind a clear purpose for reading. Just
saying the words silently while your mind is elsewhere, or when you have no goal for your reading, is
a waste of time.

Ask questions while you’re reading; reach out for the answers. Reading is an active process, not a
passive one. When you read a short story or a novel, for instance, try to ask yourself: “What will
happen next? What will May do; now that June has left her?” When you read a description of a
scene, read in order to visualize it in your mind, to fill in the missing details. Make the printed page
your servant; do not let it be your master.

Your aim in reading will determine how you read. In some instances, as with an easy story, you will
read rapidly, perhaps skipping passages that are not too relevant. At other times, as with a history
book, you will read slowly, with careful attention to every detail presented or otherwise you will
overlook some necessary information.

“They that have read about everything are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always
so. Reading furnishes the mind only with the materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what
we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load
of collections – we must chew them over again,” William Ellery Channing advises.

Finally, get the habit of reading widely. You can improve you reading ability only by reading
profusely. Get the habit of reading a great deal. You may wish to start with a facile material – with
the daily newspaper, a popular magazine like Reader’s Digest, or a book of easy short stories.

As you acquire fluency and pleasure in reading, try something complex. Pick an encyclopedia article
dealing with a subject that really fascinates you – hunting or fishing, electronics and computers,
motion pictures, arts and sciences, or some similar topics.

Try also to scan the pages of a novel that calls for more than customary effort to read – like Gone
With The Wind, The Good Earth, or some other that your friends highly recommend. Have patience
with the book; do not give up after the first few pages. Stay with it for several chapters until you
know definitely whether or not you like it. Probably you will find yourself enjoying it.

“It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-
reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best,” Richard Baxter points out. “And it is not possible
to read over many on the same subject without a great deal of loss of precious time.”
When you read, don’t just read but think as well. John Locke reminds, “Reading furnishes the mind
only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”