Glancing over the tomes that I’ve piled up over the years, I couldn’t help but ponder over their fading influence in times when Elon Musk plans to put chips in the human mind. There are options now, a lot of options. Fiction competes with visual entertainment; and non-fiction with podcasts. Admittedly, imagery and sound arouse greater excitement than written words. So, why read?
Because reading cultivates a habit of choice. For all the visual grandeur and compelling storytelling of Game of Thrones, you cannot choose to visualize a more relatable image of King’s Landing, or a more familiar voice for Rob Stark. All nuances, emotions, and narratives, are served on a platter. A sumptuous meal, but one that you do not get to choose for yourself.
That choice breeds the single greatest quality responsible for human advancement — imagination. While none might ever have to ‘imagine’ a person or a scenario in their daily lives, it is worthwhile to practice the skill. After all; the laptop I’m writing on, and the phone that you’re reading on, are both products of imagination. So was the university that I graduated from, and the nation that I live in.
Reading, devoid of cosmetics, puts your mind to work. What impresses upon the reader is not the text itself, but their interpretation of it. Your protagonist could look different from mine, with the exact same description. A quote that strikes me might seem mundane to you, changing our respective interpretations of the words that follow. The sixteenth-century Telugu text, Raghava Pandaveeyam, can tell the story about either Ramayana or Mahabharata, depending on the reader. Words are capable of dual meaning in a manner that is elusive for the other mediums.
Books also demand the patience of the reader. They are not cheap sources of entertainment; they put your mind to work for hours, making sense of the black ink. Authors, unlike Instagram influencers, do not dilute meaning to suit dropping attention spans. The books reserve their gifts for the worthy.
And bookshelves are where you find the least noisy rhetoric. Peddlers understand that their target audience wouldn’t read anything longer than a WhatsApp message, keeping the bookshelves reserved for nuanced narratives. You might disagree with authors or ideas, but none can dispute the genuine scholarship it takes to write hundreds of pages. You can hardly go wrong by picking up a book.
It is wrongly perceived that the point of reading is to achieve the ability to win arguments. However, as one reads, they soon discover that the world at large works not on arguments, but on narratives. And it is worthwhile to spend some time in understanding the narratives that shape the lives of billions.
Next time you’re bored, pick a book.
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If you liked this piece, do read the one titled ‘Why write?’