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Why do we read?

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

- Groucho Marx

Indeed, this question has bothered me periodically throughout my school and college-going days. A decent book is after all nothing but a few thousand printed

characters occupying a couple of hundred pages with an Acknowledgement here, a Dedication there, and a laboriously-compiled Index elsewhere. Not to forget the Three Musketeers - Preface, Prologue, and Epilogue - whom we meet along the way.

Why then do we read? And maybe - like some of us - even dare to think of trying our hand at writing?


I think it has to do with our desire to listen to a good story. To give - as E M Forster pointed out years ago - full vent to our "What-Happens-Next-And-How" syndrome. An impulse that is so deep-rooted in the human race that we have had to feed it since time immemorial in various forms. Haven’t we all heard of the village storyteller, the bard, or the wandering minstrels? From the court poets of an earlier age they continue right down to today’s industry of ‘bestselling authors’, that distinctly-modern breed of amazingly-creative minds who churn out six-pack thrillers faster than you can say ‘whoa!’

We are all like Shahryar, the “Sasanian king” (Wikipedia) in the Arabian Nights, waiting for Scheherazade to finish her tale before executing her the next morning, the fate reserved for all his virgin brides till then. And the monarch is very much alive today among us. It is because of him that we surf channels when there is one of those numerous commercial breaks. It is he who ensures that on a lazy Sunday we finish an entire season of Friends on Netflix. Daily soaps regularly enjoy mega-runs, notching up hundreds of episodes. And for us readers too, it is this eternal curiosity which drives us to gorge on “page turners” by the dozens.

Result? Considerable reduction in stress.

Advice: Go for it!

Workout for the Brain

Much needed, believe me. Our daily schedule has no space for an activity as “mundane and unexciting” as reading. We have better things to do, such as lifting irons at the upmarket neighbourhood gym, negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic, dealing with work-related stress, partying into the wee hours of the night, and bingeing on my host’s expensive alcohol. All the while thinking furiously about how to make a few extra bucks.

But your mind needs to be exercised as well. Engaging actively with the written word is perhaps the best mental activity that you can choose. Do it regularly, not because you need to ‘learn’ but so that you develop your power of retention. There are many who struggle with long passages. Precisely because they challenge their somewhat-weakened memory.

Result: Improves retention & focus

Advice: What are you waiting for?

Improves Communication Skills

Reading is all about gaining knowledge, learning about things that you were hitherto unaware of. Regular reading familiarises you with various sentence structures, and you also encounter a clutch of new words and expressions. All of which contribute to improving one’s presentation and communication skills. In fact, most students who face difficulty in IELTS Reading also struggle with explaining their position on a complex issue. Especially if it is a nuanced one. And this holds true for Speaking and Writing both. They suddenly feel the lack of adequate sentence structures and vocabulary to get their meaning across in the clearest possible manner. The solution: read whatever comes across your way, from fiction to biographies and everything in between. A Chetan Bhagat will do the job. So will a Charles Dickens, or even a Charles Darwin.

Result: A smarter, more interesting you.

Advice: Get cracking!

If you remember most of what I have mentioned here, there’s hope for you yet. Instead, if you have to scroll back to help you recall, there’s some serious work ahead. I’ll leave you to deal with it in peace.

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