Woman reading a book on the Metro in Madrid 2011
Woman reading a book on the Metro in Madrid 2011
Metro Reader, Pencil Sketch by Sean P. Durham

Why Reading is Important to Your Happiness

Something magical happens with each book that we begin to read.

I’ve purchased a lot of books over the years. I’m one of these people who has to have a clear out every so often, get rid of the bestsellers that are one time reads, and reshuffle the rows of books that I can’t let go of.

My apartment walls are decked with full wooden bookshelves that could serve my local community as a mini library. For me, these bookshelves are like a portal into other worlds. The spine of each book offers a clue as to what might be in that world. If I haven’t read the book, or if it’s been a long time since visiting that neck of the woods, then I know that the magic works like this, if I pull the book out and flip a couple of pages, I might fall into another dimension and become lost in an adventure for the next few day — or a week or so.

Book reading is a dangerous but adventurous game of traversing through various worlds that are normally hidden from view. Discovering new worlds and ideas through books has led to changed lives, new pathways for some, and inspirational flashes for many. The inspirational flash that you experience when reading a book, fiction or non-fiction, is often like a challenge from the gods — you have been summoned to the court where adventurers and seekers have gone before you. It’s up to you to arm yourself and follow the inspiration found in those pages.

Books are full of ideas. Often, ideas about the human experience and how others dealt with, and overcame the problems of living, surviving, and making life an enjoyable adventure instead of one of boredom and mundane atrophy.

My books are ordered in an A to Z collection. It’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening on the bookshelves if I need to quickly make a shift into a better world. I need ideas to keep going in this life, and books are the first source.

You can’t always trust the advice of a smiling friend who tries to advise you on a problem. A book will help though, it’ll offer ideas to think about, to ponder and meditate on — there’s never an adviser in a book looking for a pay-off, or waiting for your decision and confirmation. Books offer an open path, follow it or don’t, a book doesn’t care what you think about it’s words and advice, a fictional story, full of the love and woes of life, the ups and downs of existence, will simply show you what happened somewhere in this universe. It’ll help you get your thoughts straight.

Right now, I’m reading a novel depicted in a time of long ago. The characters have found their connection with each other in love and family obligations. They are happy, and as they begin to enjoy that happiness, they are confronted by war. Their personal needs in life are set aside, chipped away at bit by bit. Their only obligation becomes survival.

They are faced with accepting that war destroys everything in its path, the brutal thinking of politicians, the stupidity and greed that destroys life and leaves the essential principles that we all need to live, destroyed.

Fiction teaches us, it offers a look into another life, another universe, a place that once existed and has now gone. The winds of time, the changing seasons create new landscapes in our lives. But our need for experience and sustenance, stay the same.

The book I’m presently reading offers me an insight into what happened during the 1960s war in Nigeria, and the short lived existence of the state of Biafra.

The newspapers tried to report on this war at that time. Their reporting was not accurate, it was a British point of view presented in various British newspapers that represented, left or right wing, British interests.

Newspaper readers were shocked, gasped at, and balked at the horrors depicted. If you ask an older generation person about that war today, they’ll probably tell you about photos of pot-bellied children in Biafra, and photos of soldiers carrying rifles, that were supplied by British arms dealers.

The book, “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has drawn me into that world of long ago and shown me how the war in Biafra affected real people.

The book has been on my shelf for more than one year. I thought of it as something good to read, but probably not much to do with my little universe. But then, late one night, I picked it up and flicked through its pages and read a paragraph or two. It began to create sparks in my mind, memories shifted and drifted past my inner eyes, and I sat down, flicked back to the first page and read a couple of sides. I thought I’d put it back on the shelf, but first a couple more pages, then I’ll dump it among the other books.

Days later, I’m still reading it, and each reading session is a powerful experience. An eye opener.

And that’s the point in reading, it’s an eye opener. It gives insight into things that are connected with us, but maybe we didn’t realize how connected those things are, how pertinent to our lives a story may be. After all, stories are about human beings, about love and loss, winning and losing. They are also about us as individuals — even a book about war and politics is about us, so we should give it try and read it, find out if it will awaken something dormant inside.

Books help us to understand how we can live in the turmoil of a world created by powerful people who lack vision and courage to create good things. Books open up a way to grasp vision as individuals. They give us the power to think and see better than simple minded, profit and power driven men and women.

Books make us better people — especially if they cause us to act.

Maybe, that’s why authors write about tragedy and broken things. The Media, who only report the bad news for us to consume. Unlike a novel, the Media uses bad news not to draw us into a different world, but to scare the living daylights out of us — they want us to read and then, full of fear, refuse to engage in life. Let those clever people at the top of the table do the thinking, they will put things back in order while we hide under the table.

The Media serves itself, the need to keep an audience any which way it can, that’s all.

The author and poet are powerful individuals. They show us the portal that leads to understanding.

An author will lead us into a world of heartbreak, but keep us safe from real harm. We trust the author and venture into a magical world.

The Media will threaten us with the fear that the wolf is already at our door.

The reader engages in the words and feels the powerful sentiment of humanity through the author’s work. It takes guts to be an author, it takes will to be a good reader. The guts to believe in an idea and work at it, and expand on it so that others can share in it.

The reader has an obligation to themselves, the author demands nothing. A reader must simply open up to the author’s world, have trust, and begin to find out what’s in those pages when they invest energy and time into the author’s vision of an idea.

All those books on my shelves represent single ideas that skilled writers developed into worthy thoughts of life. Some of those authors are long dead, some were one-book writers, who went off and did other things in life.

Some of the authors on my bookshelves wrote the truth of life, and ended up being put in front of a firing squad because of their writing. There are a lot of those writers, some still alive and not knowing the effect their words will have, until we read their work. And others who lived their lives, and wrote their beliefs for us to read in safety, they are gone, but their ideas live.

Those tricky minded bigots who rule the tables of power don’t like thinking people. Especially the authors and poets who dedicated their whole lives to honing the power of thought.

The writers who create the stories we read are the true influencers of our lives. The words of a poem or a story, however long or short, can create change and improvement with the gentle nudges that each story gives us.

The danger of reading is that it might change your mind, and open up new thoughts that were lying dormant for years. It can reveal things to you about a deeper self.

You open a book and browse its pages, sit down and get lost in a new world populated by strangers. You get to know them, to like them, to hate some of them. You would love to meet many of them, and wring the necks of some of them.

When you finish the story, you are changed, maybe only slightly, but if you were in that world that the author created, then you can’t come back and think you are the same person.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

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