How does reading change you?

11/11/2015 Discussions, Literature, Reading 19

How does reading change you?Recently I’ve seen quite a few ‘Books That Have Changed Me’ posts around the blogosphere, and I really love the idea that books and stories can change us in some way. I know that I personally have felt that certain stories and certain characters have really resonated with me, and in some small way have made me see the world a little differently.

But this got me thinking – does reading itself change us? Being exposed to so many points of view and different types of people and places must surely broaden the mind in some way, and I’d really love to think that it does. Whilst TV can tell us stories, it does so in a completely different way: on TV we look at a person and attempt to gauge their inner thoughts from expressions in much the same way we would in real life, whereas in a book we can see through the eyes of a character (or at least know their thoughts), and see what it’s actually like to walk in their shoes. Fictional writing, as something communicated directly from one person (the writer) to another (the reader), seems to me to be the purest form of story telling.

But what effect does that ultimately have on us as readers? Does it improve us, or give us unrealistic expectations of people and the world? Does it make us more sympathetic and tolerant towards others? Or more cynical perhaps? And all those stories that stick with us throughout the years, all those books that ‘changed us’, what exactly have they changed?

Well here’s a few of my thoughts on the subject…

  • Reading enhances the imagination.

There’s no question that reading requires imagination: reading is essentially the act of taking in words and turning them into a mental image of a story. When the imagination is exercised regularly (eg. you read regularly) it would be reasonable to assume that it strengthens and sharpens it, until you are a far more imaginative person than before.

For example, as a child when I first got into reading (at a pretty young age!), I would always imagine myself in my favourite books (did anyone else ever used to do this, or am I officially a crazy person? Didn’t every kid dream of going to Hogwarts?), but as I grew older and my imagination developed, this in turn led to me making up my own worlds, full of my own characters living out my own story. Which leads me on to…

  • Reading can make you more creative.

Whilst a lot of people who don’t write do read, it would be fair to say that all writers read. It would be pretty much impossible to be a writer if you didn’t read and so had no frame of reference or inspirational at all! Therefore I feel it’s fair to say that reading can spark a desire to create in people, and I know from experience that reading something amazing really does just make me want to write and write and write (and then probably cry because it will never be as incredible as what I’ve just read!). Just think of the amount of films, performances, songs and piece of artwork which have been inspired by, or are even direct adaptations of books, if you want to get a feel for the scope of the creativity reading can inspire!

  • Reading teaches you things and can make you smarter.

I’m by no means saying here that non-readers aren’t smart, because of course that’s not true! However, reading can definitely teach us so much, hence why most schools, colleges and universities usually give you things to read in order to learn things.

It isn’t just the actual facts stated in books either that can improve your knowledge and make you smarter: reading itself has been scientifically proven to improve a person’s vocabulary, concentration skills and analytical skills.

  • Reading shows us what it is to be human.

We can never know what it is actually like to be anyone but ourselves, but fiction is probably the closest we’ll ever come. Being a human is essentially a pretty lonely thing, but through books we can see such a wide range of different perspectives and people, and experience things we will never experience ourselves, and in this way it truly captures the essence of what it is to be a person, a single consciousness in this world of billions of other people. Fiction shows us other people feeling the same things we have, and suffered the same things we have (and loads of other things that we haven’t), and in some way I think it can make us feel less alone.

So what do you think? Does reading change us as people, and if so, how?

19 Responses to “How does reading change you?”

  1. Pamela Nicole

    I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING, specially the part about reading showing us how it is to be humans. Reading has not only helped me understand myself better, but also other people, the way they behave, and the reasons why they most likely do it. True, it makes you retreat into your own world, but people outside have no idea that we learn just as much as if we were out there asking ourselves XD

    • Laura

      Yeah, that’s definitely one thing I think non-readers don’t realise about reading. They think that being in your own world all the time makes you ill-equipped to deal with the real one, when actually you can find out so much about people and the world through books that people wouldn’t necessarily tell you, or say out loud in real life.

  2. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I agree with all your points, but my favorite is the last one. I feel that reading allows us into the mind and soul of another human being in a very intimate way. Visual media are more external, to me. I love having my experience broadened, challenged, and confirmed through reading. Great post!

    • Laura

      I love the way you described that – ‘reading allows us into the mind and soul of another human being’. That’s exactly what reading feels like to me, with the writer allowing you both into the mind of the character, and into their own mind, and the world they’ve created.

    • Laura

      For me that’s the key difference between reading books and watching TV – TV has a neutral perspective where you’re just looking at everyone, whereas in a book you usually have a perspective or multiple perspectives, even if it’s written in third person.

  3. Jee Ann

    Yes, especially the last one! I remember watching Matilda where there was one line that said how reading books reminded Matilda that she wasn’t alone. Reading is amazing, especially reading good books. I personally believe that it can make and raise good people – people who care more, who value courage and kindness… Reading is an amazing gift.

    • Laura

      Reading is such an amazing gift, and I totally agree it can make people who are kinder and more caring (not that non-readers aren’t, but I think reading really helps!).

  4. Bryan G. Robinson

    That last one: Reading shows what it is to be human. That’s not always the case, I think, as I read crime fiction. Sometimes I think it shows what it is to be inhuman…although maybe that shows us what the opposite is: to be alive.

    I know I don’t visit your blog as often as I should (see your posts through Twitter and need to add your blog to my feed reader), but when I do, I always enjoy your posts.

    • Laura

      I get what you mean about fiction showing what it is to be inhuman, although I kind of feel like it amounts to the same thing – genres like crime just tend to show the dark side of ‘being human’, which I guess could also be described as inhuman (if that makes any sense!).
      I’m so glad you enjoy my posts, and thanks for commenting! 🙂

  5. Killian

    In short: yes to everything you said.

    Now for the long version.

    Reading completely shapes who I am as a person. It has had a profound effect on me. As you mentioned, I think it has given me more imagination that I would have had otherwise. I also owe my writing skills (which may not always be evident in my blog posts but tends to come together better for essays in real life) to reading, at least I think so. Most importantly, I think reading has showed me compassion. I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction over the past few months and if it’s anything those books, and books in general, have told me, is that I have to care about people. Yeah, I can be standoffish, and silently hate everyone around me. That’s the easy thing to do. But books have taught me that you can’t do that. People are people and you need to feel empathy for them, regardless of whether you like them or not.

    That’s what it’s been like for me anyway. Obviously I’m not implying that non-readers are soulless scum but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. OK I could go on forever so I’ll stop here.

    • Laura

      Thanks so much for sharing this! I’m so glad you agree with my points.
      Reading has definitely shaped me as a person too (in fact the inspiration for this post was when I got to thinking about how I would be totally different if I didn’t read) and probably in a lot of the same ways you have said it has shaped you, so I totally understand what you’re saying. I’m very shy, and so naturally just come across as a little standoffish and awkward, but I feel like reading has taught me so much about other people, and has in many ways made me understand and feel for other people more than I ever would have otherwise.

    • Laura

      YA is definitely so good at dealing with social and world issues, so I totally agree with you there. It’s so great that we can learn more about these kinds of issues through reading.

  6. Olivia Roach

    Some people believe that reading doesn’t have any effect on you and there I would have to strongly disagree because I believe it does. For me, that would be how much it teaches you to be human, see things from different perspectives and understand others emotions. No other place can you get so personal with a fictional, or someone else’s, mind.

    • Laura

      I totally agree. Fiction gets you into a person’s mind unlike any other method of storytelling, and allows you to understand peoples emotions better, which is so amazing!

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