Read & Thou Shalt Live Importance of Reading as a Hobby

It was the year 2005 when I was promoted to Grade 5, and all of a sudden, I became a middle school senior. It was the best thing that happened to me at that time because I was able to go to the school library, a place otherwise restricted to juniors. For an introverted person like myself, the library was a haven, especially during recess time, when I wanted to avoid people or when I felt lonely and depressed. Ironically, my understanding of people developed at the very place where I sought escape, primarily because it enabled me to develop the habit of reading. I started my reading journey with an Urdu magazine called Taleem-o-Tarbiat and children’s fantasy fiction like Imran Series’ chronicles of Umro Ayyar. Later, I moved on to Enid Blyton’s adventure novels, The Famous Five, mystery accounts of Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, and Amber Naag Maria. By the time I reached tenth grade, I had already read the works of renowned Pakistani and international authors, including Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Patras Bukhari, Qudrat Ullah Shahab and Charles Dickens, as well as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte and William Shakespeare. My strong desire to read compelled me to pursue a degree in English Literature, which not only sharpened my analytical skills but also helped me gain a better understanding of the world around me. Hence, I believe that reading should be an essential part of our everyday lives, but unfortunately, our fast-paced lives have incrementally restricted us from enjoying this activity.
Our world has seen rapid progress and growth in the field of digital technology and social media over the past two decades. This digital progress has bombarded us with the promise of connectivity and closeness while simultaneously compelling us to incorporate small interactions into our routine lives. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram are designed for reading small thoughts or seeing pictures by constantly scrolling our screens, while email and messaging applications are designed to hold multiple conversations at a single time, all resulting in a compromised attention span of the users. Since reading is a prolonged activity that requires focus and attention, it becomes tiresome for the readers to comprehend the text as they are accustomed to small contacts or interactions. Hence, they stop this activity altogether and start scrolling through their Twitter and Instagram feeds. Although the importance of digital media cannot be denied, the fact that the collective intellectual degradation of our societies is at an all-time high because a large chunk of the population is uninterested in reading, presents a daunting reality.
In today’s world, social media platforms provide the concept of connectivity and shrinking distances, but we often forget that books bring people together from all over the world and even connect the living with the dead. For instance, while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, readers call into question the basic idea of what humanity is and whether a monster resides in us or not. Reading is a sort of negotiation since readers continuously contemplate their own and the author’s views. So, one can argue that books are timeless and even if somebody reads a piece of literature written hundreds of years ago, they can relate to it because the ideas presented in them are never stale. Moreover, reading allows an insight into the greatest brains in human history as well as the social realities of which the great authors contextualized their work, which helps the readers to grasp historical accounts from diverse angles. For example, Laurence Hausman’s translation of The Arabian Nights portrays Arabs and Muslims as harsh, barbarous, and immoral. It is vital to highlight that this stereotyping is visible to native Arabs or Muslim readers. However, such stereotyping becomes a known truth to White or European readers, they begin perceiving the Arabs or Muslims as described by the author. As a result, in such circumstances, it is critical that the stereotyped community read these texts and respond civilly with their own opinion. 
René Descartes, a French philosopher, stated: “I think, therefore, I am,” which implies that the existence of human beings depends upon their ability to think. However, even the mere act of thinking requires reading. When a person reads, he or she contemplates the ideas presented by the author and soon develops the ability to read between the lines. Moreover, the readers’ background knowledge and the ideas fed to them by society collide with ideas posited by the author, making them question their existing knowledge, author’s point of view, or societal norms that affect people residing at the margins of society. Hence, reading fosters critical thinking among the readers, eventually giving meaning to their lives. Apart from this, reading helps in viewing the world through the eyes of the characters, giving readers a chance to fill in the shoes of the characters and feel the situations that they would never have the chance of feeling otherwise. As Joyce Carol Oates notes: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” This means that reading provides us with an alternate world and an emotional outlet for the readers through which they understand and empathize with people around them who have somewhat similar stories.
Reading is a time-consuming process, but sometimes readers employ different techniques, like skimming and scanning, to get a general idea of the text. While this is an effective strategy to get an overview, it must not be adopted by the reader as the only practice, mainly because important aspects of the texts are overlooked in these practices. Hence, if one continues to read the text only through skimming and scanning, he fails at comprehending the complex nature of the text, neglects the emotions that the writer intends to convey, and most importantly, disregards the writer’s efforts altogether. 
Reading is a centuries-old, powerful tradition through which ideas are communicated, knowledge is transferred, and masses are educated. It shapes the collective intellect and helps the readers gain an understanding of their world through the experiences of the characters that they study through various books. As Maya Angelou states: “When I look back, I am again impressed with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” Hence, it would not be wrong to say that reading shapes our cognitive abilities and opens the doors of unending possibilities for us. As for me, reading has always been my best companion, especially when I had no one to confide in. It enabled me to view the world without discrimination and prejudice and helped me become a better version of myself. HH

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