The Benefits of Reading
In an age of TikTok, when videos are how many get information about the world, it’s worth looking at what’s being lost as we transition ever more to entertainment-on-demand.
The benefits of reading are well known. Yet in addition to developing your brain’s general activity and preventing age-related cognitive decline, reading can also reduce stress and increase your ability to empathize. Reading is also a great way to unwind at the end of the day and get a good night’s sleep.
And despite many depressing headlines, there is quite a bit of good news in terms of literacy. Although sales of traditional novels have been declining, children’s books are selling better than they have in many years. Having such exposure to reading from an early age is certainly a major advantage for younger generations. Also, illiteracy rates have continued their decline over the last decades as universal education becomes ever more the norm compared to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Equally critical, the gap in illiteracy rates between anglophones and francophones has been greatly reduced, reflecting improvements in francophone education of the last decades.
Yet as important as functional literacy is, people everywhere are losing their ability to sit and concentrate on longer texts and novels. This is natural given that we live in a world of distractions. On the one hand, information has never been as readily available. On the other, we find ourselves with ever less time to simply relax and unwind. Although we read more than ever with text messages and other forms of short communication, the quality of our reading has certainly declined. Taking the time to rediscover the joys of sitting in the shade reading a book or newspaper during the summer, or next to a fireplace in the winter would help many of us unwind and reduce our stress levels.
Also, here in Aylmer we have another major advantage in terms of literacy. Living in a community with both French and English means that we have the opportunity to learn to read in two of the world’s main literary languages, opening windows into much of the world’s great literature and news sources. For Anglophones, this can go from experiencing this year’s Nobel prize laureate in literature, Annie Ernaux, to reading Tintin or Asterix in the language in which they were written. For Francophones, the benefits from becoming comfortable reading in English include the huge selection of information sources to choose from, and the wealth of literary classics published in English over the years, from Dickens to Harry Potter. Although translations allow us to experience other languages in ways we often wouldn’t be able to otherwise, there are inevitably subtleties that are lost from the authors’ original works. And as an added bonus, bilingualism has been shown to further improve our memories as well as our abilities to multitask and stave off dementia and Alzheimers in old age.
Improving our linguistic skills in our first and second languages is certainly time well spent.