Books offer benefits, but only if we read them
Dec. 23, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

One in four adults in the US has not read a book in the past year, according to recent surveys.

The percentage of adults who don’t read books may even be growing.

That seems bizarre to me, but it may help to explain some things.

For example, the reading skills of adults in the US are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries.

What’s more, over the last two decades, Americans’ reading proficiency has declined across most age groups.

We may be in trouble.

As we move ever closer to a global economy in which US companies compete directly with those in other countries, this is not a good time to be losing ground in reading proficiency (not that there ever is a good time for that).

I can’t help but wonder why people aren’t reading.

It is true I am not the most objective source on this subject. I have been surrounded by books my entire life, and I can’t imagine a life in which books did not play an important role.

Nonetheless, after reading about the most recent surveys, I gave some thought to why some people don’t read.

It isn’t price. Libraries offer a wealth of books that patrons can read for free, as they always have, so economic status can’t be a factor in people’s decision not to read.

In addition to traditional libraries, those Little Free Libraries are popping up all over, giving people access to books in a new (and also free) way.

It can’t be convenience. Books are available in more formats today than ever before.

We can choose hardcovers or paperbacks, as well as digital versions compatible with a wide range of devices including laptops, tablets, specialized e-readers, and even our phones.

Access to books should not be a problem.

Some people say they don’t have time to read.

It is true we are busy these days, but the amount of time people spend watching television or surfing the Internet seems to be increasing.

So, as far as I can tell, if people want to read, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

I suspect I am preaching to the choir here. Something tells me people who read my column on a weekly basis are probably reading books, as well.

Books provide more than information. They can transport us into new worlds, and we can become immersed in books in ways that are simply not possible with other formats.

Books provide excellent mental exercise, and some studies suggest reading books may provide other benefits, as well.

Reading can reduce stress, and there are plenty of good reasons for doing that.

It can help keep our brains in shape, the way regular exercise can help keep our bodies in shape (or so I have read).

Some have suggested that people who engage in activities such as solving puzzles and reading may be less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia (this has not been established as a cause-and-effect relationship, but there may be a connection).

A report from the Mayo Clinic lists reading as one of the healthy lifestyle choices that can preserve brain function and prevent cognitive decline.

Reading may also help us sleep better (although as any avid reader knows, a good book may cause us to stay up later than we should, so this may be a push). If we are up half the night because we can’t put a book down, we might have to re-think our strategy.

There are many reasons why we should be reading, but I can’t think of any reason not to read.

I’m not suggesting that those who don’t read are bad people, or that they are not as smart as people who do read.

I do, however, think they are missing out on a lot of things.

As Mark Twain noted, “The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

When people choose not to read, they personally lose the advantages reading can bring, and, it seems to me, we all lose the advantages that being a nation of readers could provide.

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