What a joy it is to step out of my own little life for an hour or so every day and exist in the world of someone else. What a lesson, to view the human condition from a slightly more omni-present perspective. The more time I spend outside of myself and amongst the cares of (albeit fictional) other people, the more I see my own life as part of a larger whole. And the more willing I become to live my life accordingly.
One of my goals for my gap year was to give myself time to dive into great fiction and non-fiction. I find reading to be terribly important. Not just because it is one of the most pleasurable activities in my life, but because:
have found that reading literature actually helps to increase your level of empathy. To read a great book is to enter into a world that is not your own. It is to step out of your own troubles and consider the troubles of others. It has helped me personally to realize that the universe is full of people who think and feel like me. The more time you spend engaging in the lives of others, the less your life seems to stand out as particularly special, and the more you care about the troubles of others.
Sometimes I just need a break from life. Reading great literature provides a healthy way to get that much needed recharge. There are certainly other ways to escape our troubles, but I still find literature to be the most healthy for me. If I go down another route and indulge in one of my guiltiest pleasures, say… a Korean drama, murder mystery, or romance, I do enjoy myself during the activity but am left afterwards unprepared to reenter reality. Romance causes me to be either unrealistic or bitter. Mystery and action often leave me just plain out of touch with the real world. Although reading literature helps me escape reality for a bit, it doesn’t leave me unwilling to come back to my life in the end. In fact, sometimes I feel like realistic fiction helps prepare me for life.
Which leads me to point three. Call me naive, ignorant, or homeschooled. I’ve had peers accuse me of all three crimes at once! And yet it is I who watch them creating terrible situations for themselves while I mumble under my breath: “don’t do that! Can’t you see? It is just like Natasha Bolonsky!” Despite a rather sheltered upbringing, I don’t feel extremely under prepared for life. Sometimes I feel like I’ve garnered just a bit of life experience vicariously through the thousands of lives I’ve read about. In fact, some recent studies
have indicated that reading great literature may help improve social skills!
Reading gives the brain a workout.
From deciphering sentences and analyzing the causes and effects of situations to visualizing scenes and characters and predicting future situations, there is a lot that goes on while you read. I don’t want to let my brain get fat and lazy during gap year. So consider this afternoon’s Anna Karenina marathon a brain workout.
My younger sister went through a Karen Cushman phase last year. As her writing coach, I was amazed to see that the more Cushman books she read, the more her writing looked like her favorite author’s. Multiple people have told me: “if you are feeling writer’s block, put your pen down and read!” If immersion is the best way to learn foreign languages, couldn’t it also help us to master our own? By exposing myself to the best the English language has to offer, I hope to spontaneously digest and assimilate vocabulary, syntax, and story structure that can help me improve my own writing.
6. Solving Problems
Some of my biggest problems in life have been solved by books. Religious questions I had were answered in the darkest pits of Crime and Punishment
. A bout of entitlement and unthankfulness was cured after reading Esperanza Rising
. Some of my middle child fears and complaints were dissolved whilst devouring Jacob Have I Loved
. And important questions I never knew to ask were raised while reading Tolstoy’s Family Happiness.
I could give you example after example of times books have helped me deal with real life situations.
7. Deeper Interaction
Reading allows you to explore places, ideas, and worlds that you would not be able to access any other way. For example, you can watch The Book Thief (great movie by the way) and see people moving around, interacting, and living out their own story. It is extremely touching and can be semi impactful. However, when you read the same story, you are allowed into the thought process of each character. You are no longer merely watching the story play out, you are involved in it. When I watched the movie I cried for a few minutes. When I read the book I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks, and the principles I gleaned from the story still affect me today.
8. Explore and Learn
I absolutely adore traveling, but when the finances are low, books offer me a low-cost alternative ticket to adventure and exploration. Through books I have explored dozens of countries all over the world and experienced adventures I’ll never forget. No matter what your interests are, there is a book out there somewhere to sweep you off your feet and/or teach you something exciting and new.
When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
― Ray Bradbury
And with that, I think I have fully convinced myself that stopping life to read Anna Karenina all afternoon will be okay after all.
If your interested, here are some fancy articles about the stuff I talked about: