The experience of reading is beneficial and incomparable

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the first annual Waterloo Reads 2013 a couple weeks back, which is a friendly competition where “local celebrities” from Waterloo Region were asked to champion a book from the Evergreen Award Shortlist. Personalities such as Gary Doyle from 570 News and Waterloo city councilor Karen Scian were some of the participants on the panel.

And there’s me, this recent university graduate who is far away from being a “local celebrity,” embarrassing himself in front of about 50 people. Well, I really didn’t embarrass myself (I hope) and did manage to crack a few laughs from the crowd that was predominately over the age of 50.

Then it struck me — I’m one of the youngest people in this room. I wasn’t the only young person, but I was well below the average.

Admittedly, before this Waterloo Reads competition I hadn’t picked up a book for months.

After reading — and I use the term “reading” pretty lightly — a ton of books that I didn’t really want to read during my undergraduate years, I kind of lost the love for picking up a good, heavy piece of literature, whether that is fiction or non-fiction.

And once I realized that I haven’t read a satisfying book in quite awhile, I was upset with myself. But when I talk to a lot of my friends and ask if they’ve read something in awhile, I get the same answer that most people in our generation usually give: “Reading? I don’t have time for that.”

As I was driving home from Waterloo Reads that night, I was still pretty down on the fact that I don’t read leisurely anymore. Upset I didn’t spend the summer finishing my summer reading list. Upset that I spent so much money buying these books and letting them collect dust on my bookcase.

This doesn’t mean I don’t read, which would clearly be a poor thing to admit if you are the Editor-in-Chief of a student newspaper. I obviously read a lot of news and articles both in print and online.

But even then, is it really “reading”? Our life is pretty much run by 140-characters in short intervals. We retain so much information at once that it’s pretty difficult to keep track of what’s going on.

As a result, your understanding of big world events is limited to just “what” has happened rather than “why.” And that component of “why” is so important.

There’s a bit of optimism out there that reading and literature still has a place in today’s fast paced society. The front-page coverage of Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for literature and the change to make the /r/books a default section on the widely popular website Reddit are good signs.

Hell, even if people are reading The Hunger Games trilogy or Harry Potter for the twentieth time, that’s still reading.

There was recently a debate at The Cord office on Tuesday about whether or not reading made you smarter — even fiction for the sake of entertainment purposes.

And while it’s hard to answer that question, I think that everyone should revisit the lost art of reading. There has to be some good in it, right?

I’m busy and I know everyone else is, but there’s a danger, no matter what field of study you’re in or where you work, in not reading anymore. And I don’t think our generation really does.

I could be just cynical in that assumption. But people should make some free time to read leisurely.

When I see young children playing on their parents’ iPads and smartphones, it’s obvious children and young people don’t learn the same. But we shouldn’t rule out what reading can do for people, and the skill should continue to be emphasized at a young age.

While it’s time-consuming to sit down and hammer through a 500-page novel in a weekend, everyone should make it their goal to read non-academic works in their spare time. But be sure to be open to different types of literature. Read works that you would otherwise never pick up.

So revisit the old days once in awhile and grab a book. Put down the smartphone and stop exclusively reading Twitter. There’s absolutely no harm in doing so.

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