In my last post I discussed true numbers about reading in America- who is reading books today, what format they prefer to use for reading, their likely ages and incomes, etc. Today I would like to list the reasons why reading a story is better than watching it on a screen, and why reading as a leisure activity will never die. At the end I think you’ll agree- reading a story beats watching it every time!
First, let’s talk about some of the more obvious benefits:
- There are no commercials when you read a book. You will never turn the page of a physical book and have to sit through thirty seconds of an ad for the latest and greatest hair spray or a cure for arthritis
- Books are portable. A lot of them will fit neatly into your purse, so you can take one on a bus, sit with it on the beach, or read it on your lunch break at work. It works just fine when you’re in the bathroom., or when you’re waiting for a dish to finish cooking in the kitchen. You can even read while you’re relaxing in a long, hot both (just not on your e-reader, please!)
- No power source is needed for old fashioned paperback books! They never need to be recharged or have batteries replaced, and they’re always ready when you are
- You’re not as likely to mindlessly scarf down junk food while you’re reading, unlike when you’re watching a show. After all, you have to keep at least one hand free to turn the pages! (Although there’s nothing wrong with nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate while you’re reading!)
But I think the greatest advantage reading a story has over watching it is the way reading engages a person’s imagination. Consider, for example, the following sentences:
The young boy walked sadly next to the white picket fence that led down to the apple orchard, his shoes scuffing the dirt into the air. He did not look up until he heard a yelp and saw a white blur running towards him. With a sudden laugh of relief he leaned down and threw his arms around the dog, receiving a series of licks on his face in return.
When you read that sentence, how did you picture the boy in your mind? How old was he? What color hair did he have, and how was he dressed? In my mind he was seven or eight years old, with dark hair, wearing a red and white checked shirt with jeans, but your mental image was probably completely different. How high was the white picket fence, and how far did it go? Did the boy have to walk a long way? What kind of dog came to meet him?
If you watched that same scene on a screen somewhere, all of that information would be supplied, but since you read it your mind had to fill in the details. Reading makes your brain really work.
The work that your brain has to do when reading creates a bunch of other benefits:
- It forces the reader to pay attention. Your brain has to use the cues it is given in order to fill in the blanks
- It increases vocabulary. There are many ways a character can speak in words on a page, but only one way on screen
- It increases a person’s sense of empathy. Since reading is such an immersive experience the reader learns to see events from another person’s point of view
- It reduces stress, even more than taking a walk or listening to music. Reading an engaging story is the ultimate relaxant!
- Reading a paperback (not an ebook) just before bed helps you fall asleep faster and sleep better. And if you fall asleep in the middle of a page, there’s nothing to worry about. The book will be there waiting for you when you wake up, right where you left off!
- There’s no time limit on reading a book, so the reader can linger in the fictional world and become fully engrossed in the story. The book will not end at the bottom or top of the hour the way a TV show does.
- Reading daily can delay the onset of cognitive decay in elderly people. Studies have shown that it can even slow down the progress of dementia or Alzheimer’s
And to all of these good things I can add one more: there is no good writing without good reading. Reading is the engine that fuels the writer’s brain. As Stephen King famously said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of- no shortcut.”
Of course we all know Jane Austen’s opinion of books: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than a book!”
For all of these reasons, I think reading as a leisure activity will never die. Every so often we may be seduced by the ease of clicking a button and watching our favorite characters come to life, and there’s nothing wrong with a good movie adaptation of a wonderful book. But in our hearts we know: reading will always be better than watching.