Of course, reading gives readers exposure to new ways of expressing themselves through writing, but it also gives readers a glimpse into worlds, feelings and characters they would otherwise never encounter. Books have always been the best way I know to build empathy, and empathy seems to be one of the most valuable qualities in our society of blame, misunderstanding and fear.
Other than personal experience, which in many circumstances is impossible, books are the only way to explore worlds so different from your own and understand situations that you one day might be asked to confront. Through reading, especially through historical fiction, I learned about some of the tragedies of our history way before my peers did. I confronted some tough stuff and was able to form my own opinion about a lot of it because of the time I spent by myself, reading and thinking about what I read.
When I was little, they were also some of my first and only clues about social interaction. To say that I was an awkward kid probably wouldn’t be true. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t socialize much with my peers - I spent most of my time with adults or with books. I knew how to get along with adults, and eventually with other people my age, mainly because of the relationships I’d formed while reading.
I suppose that I would self-servingly argue that reading so much as a child, despite not having a ton of social interaction with my peers or any exposure to television, undeniably shaped not only my personality but also my values and the way I interact with others. I think it made me incredibly empathetic (almost devastatingly so) at an early age. It caused me to live very much inside my head, but it also made me socially conscious and aware of social issues long before my peers were, because I was reading about them in books. Reading Young Adult and even Adult fiction as a child gave me a preview of the way people interacted and behaved in the adult world before I officially grew up. Although reading is different than lived experiences, in some ways, it allows you to shape and process the material you’re absorbing on your own terms - to turn it over in your head and create your own point of view, rather than being forced into interaction.
I haven’t been reading as much lately because I’ve been making excuses, and I’ve noticed huge gaps - in my creativity, in my productivity, in the way I think and even in the way I relate to others. This is even further confirmation of what I’ve been realizing lately. Reading good shit off the internet is never wasted time.