“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” – Gustave Flaubert
The famous Irish television personality, Eamonn Andrews, tells this story on himself:
His parish priest in Dublin asked him whether he would like to take one of the liturgical readings on Sundays, and Eamonn gladly agreed. So late one Saturday, the priest sent one of the altar boys to ask Eamonn if he would take the reading at next day’s Mass.
He refused. And this was the way he put it to his parish priest: “As far I am concerned, the Word of God is something absolutely precious. It means an awful lot to me. I have made a lot of sacrifices during my life because of convictions I have about the Gospel. And, therefore, I will not take the Gospel for granted.
“You are asking me to come along tomorrow and go out and read something I have not seen,” Eamonn continued. “If I were doing a television program, I would spend a whole week planning and preparing it. I will not go out there just to read in front of people, without putting a lot of preparation into it, without having it explained to me. I want to know what the people are to get out of it. I want to pray about it.”
That, my friend, is how important reading is!
The topic on reading got me interested recently when I read that in a global survey, the Philippines ranks lowest out of 79 countries in reading comprehension. “This is the first time that DepEd (Department of Education) participated in a global ranking testing system, with boldness and recognition that we have to see how we rank, how we fare compared to other countries,” Secretary Leonor M. Briones admitted.
In a reading literacy assessment conducted by the inter-government group Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 15-year-old Filipino students scored a mean of 340 points, which was below the OECD average of 487 points.
The OECD used the two-hour Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It defines reading literacy as “understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.”
The OECD added, “Reading proficiency is essential for a wide variety of human activities – from following instructions in a manual; to finding out the who, what, when, where, and why of an event; to communicating with others for a specific purpose or transaction.”
But reading is more than just that. “Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach,” wrote Roberto Bolaño in 2666.
“Reading was a joy, a desperately needed escape,” said Christian Bauman. “I didn’t read to learn; I was reading to read.” In Books and You, W. Somerset Maughan shared this sentiment: “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”
Dr. Seuss, author of I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, gives an idea on why reading is fun. “The more that you read, the more things you will know,” he wrote. “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
But I like most what George R.R. Martin thinks of reading. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” he pointed out in A Dance With Dragons. “The man who never reads lives only one.”
If you want to become a writer, you ought to read. Creative writing and reading go hand in hand. “You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page,” Annie Proulx contends. “Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
William Faulkner has the same contention. “Read, read, read,” he suggested. “Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
Yes, reading is just as important as writing itself. “Reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer’s breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer – perhaps more,” wrote Jasper Fforde, author of The Well of Lost Plots.
Reading is almost always equated with books. “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us,” Franz Kafka suggested. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?
“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide,” Kafka went on. “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”
Anne Lamott has another belief when it comes to books. “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth,” she wrote in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. “What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers,” Charles W. Eliot said.
But Stephen King considers books as “uniquely portable magic.” That was what he said in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.