The relevance of books

Photo courtesy
Jeff Turner

The world has become a fast-track culture. As we lean more on the internet, we are having information doled out to us faster. The ways in which we get our information, including books, a part of the world culture that held influence for several centuries, have fallen to the wayside. This is a shame, because books can be, by far the best medium to tell a story.

A book does not lead the reader by the nose through its world or its characters, rather it offers the reader an opportunity to place themselves there, to truly breathe this universe. The reader must work and build their own sense of empathy, as opposed to having it presented to them. There have been several articles, including one by The Guardian, linking reading to higher intelligence. When they are great, books are unassailable, unable to be truly adapted into other mediums. No one has successfully made a good movie out of “The Great Gatsby” or “Slaughterhouse-Five”, and no one has ever dared to even attempt something like “Infinite Jest”.

Dan Hurley, of The Guardian, writes of his experiences: “when I was eight years old, I still couldn’t read. I remember my teacher Mrs Browning walking over to my desk and asking me to read a few sentences from a Dick and Jane book. She pointed to a word. “Tuh-hee,” I said, trying to pronounce it. “The,” she said, correcting me.” He continues on into the piece, talking about the effects a habit of reading had on him: “By age 11, I was getting straight As. Later in my teens, I took a college admissions course in the US, and scored the equivalent of 136 on an IQ test.” Hurley says, “reading increases your crystallized intelligence, which is why there are vocabulary tests on IQ tests.” This all offers a compelling case in favor of reading more, that it is like exercising the mind.

Reading forces someone to see the details and ‘essence’ of a person more so than any other medium. A radiant dancer with a nose like fine granite and a light blue, luminescent summer skirt is the kind of statement that forces a person to imagine that dancer, as opposed to a film or video game, where that will come presented pre-packaged. A book forces its reader to consider every detail of a person or character.

The decline of reading is debated. The Chicago Tribune says that it is greatly exaggerated with the Washington Post saying that it is entirely true. One would be hard pressed to look at our culture and say that it, at least symbolically, values reading. A president who has never cracked a book open in his life, and reality TV plugging up the airwaves like sewage. There are libraries coming out where no books are offered at all. There’s an element that gets lost there, where one can just stare at a screen as opposed to engaging with the test in a more active way. Reading is a benefit to life, but no longer essential. This is a disappointment, as we as a culture are burying a great art, one that we haven’t learned to appreciate.