Cathy Madavan is a self-confessed bookaholic, but here she explains why reading can be good for all of us.
When we moved house last year, the hardest thing to declutter while packing was my bookshelf. I didn’t want to part with any of my books. I wonder if you can remember the last time you were immersed in a good book? Was it fiction or non-fiction, set in modern times or ancient? Perhaps you prefer to listen to an audio book rather than turning physical pages?
Obviously not everybody is a bookworm, and for some reading can be difficult. Personally, I cannot think of anything more relaxing and enjoyable than escaping into another world as I read a novel on holiday or dive into a book on a favourite subject. I’m sure the reason I now write books is because I love reading them so much. Fortunately, there are some benefits to my slight obsession, which I detail below.
01 Reading teaches history
I vaguely remember some history lessons at school about international treaties or aspects of the industrial revolution. I am sure the teacher was great, but it didn’t sink in for some reason. However, when I first read a Jane Austen novel, I entered the world of a young woman in the 1800s, and soon learned about the traditions, expectations and pressures she faced. History suddenly came alive for me.
The same was true when I read Dickens, Shakespeare and so many others. Indeed, when I read the Bible, I also enter different phases of history with its culture and customs of the day. Reading can teach us so much.
02 Reading reduces stress
We are apparently more stressed and anxious than ever – with workplace burnout, deadlines, caring responsibilities, financial concerns and the never-ending news cycle constantly informing us of tragedies and catastrophes beyond our control. With technology always at our digital fingertips, the erosion of boundaries between work and home is detrimental to our wellbeing. Reading, however, is said to reduce our blood pressure and lower our heart rate, as well as transport us from our everyday challenges into another world. Note to self – I need to read more often!
03 Reading increases empathy
Have you ever cried during a film? Or hidden behind a sofa at a scary episode of a TV programme? I certainly have! Films often stir the emotions, but reading a book is another imaginative level again, enabling the reader to pull back the layers and enter the very thoughts and feelings of a person completely different to themselves. How else could I see the world through the eyes of an old man or a teenager living in a different culture, for example? We grow in empathy when we experience and understand something from a perspective we have never considered before.
04 Reading increases vocabulary
Apologies for sounding like your English teacher here, but the key to knowing and using an extensive variety of words is reading more widely. We don’t need to become a walking thesaurus, but English is such a beautiful language and our grasp of grammar, punctuation and vocabulary can always be expanded as we read. If you have children in your life, reading is one of the most positive things you can do with them. For us, reading Bible stories and other books at bedtime with our kids was a precious ritual that helped them learn to love stories – even though English wasn’t their favourite subject at school.
05 Reading improves sleep
Move over camomile tea and counting sheep! I can vouch for reading as a snooze-magnet. In fact, there is nothing that helps me wind down more than a few minutes of reading before bedtime. Having been attached to screens of various sizes for much of the day, the simple joy of holding a paper book at night somehow detaches me from the stress of the day and lulls me into the land of nod (even if I do sometimes forget what I sleepily read). My husband is more of an audio book fan but, in the same way, drowsily drifting off to a book is calming for him too. My apologies, therefore, if reading this article is soporific – but at least that’s another great word for your vocabulary!