In Praise of Book Reading

In Praise of Book Reading

“Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.”
E.P. Whipple

Knowledge is acquired and enhanced through reading. Also, science has proved that reading has many health benefits, like, reducing stress levels by 68%, improving memory and concentration, reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, etc. It has also been proven time and again that those who are avid readers often show signs of advanced intelligence. According to Richard Steele, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
The world observes 23rd April as World Book Day. But for the last two years the world didn’t observe it as it used to due to COVID19. As people across the world are struggling to cope with the deadly pandemic, at the same time books have become a powerful tool to tackle loneliness, depression, stress and isolation. As per a study, the global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and social distancing has caused 35% of the world to read more with 14% of people saying that they read significantly more. In addition, the study revealed that people in the UK have almost doubled the amount of time they spend on reading books since the lockdown began. More than half (52%) of the respondents said they were reading more because they had more spare time, 51% said it was because they wanted to stay entertained, and 35% felt books were providing “an escape from the crisis” (The Guardian).
Due to COVID-19, India is reading more than any other country, followed by Thailand and China (The Digital Reader). Indeed, it is a healthy sign that Indian people have started to read more books. Moreover, Covid19 has dropped physical book sales in favour of digital books, which is not surprising. As per the survey, physical book sales dropped by 15% in France, and in the United States dropped by 38% despite 33% reading more due to COVID19. During the lockdown, book sales in Turkey increased by 30%.
De facto, printed books/texts have been the prime medium of learning and reading. However, with the inception of technology, digital texts have emerged very fast. The use of digital texts (e-texts) requires new ways of learning and teaching because digital texts have essentially changed the act of reading. Frechette (2002) had predicted earlier that digital technology “…will alter our very conception of basic terms such as reading, writing, and text”. A research paper which was published in English Education Department, Universitas Kristen Indonesia, on Print vs Digital Reading Comprehension in English as a foreign language (EFL), shows the Effect of Digital Reading to Comprehension. According to the author, “Studies comparing the effect of reading digital texts versus printed texts to reading speed, accuracy, and comprehension have been carried out since the emergence of computers. These studies showed inconsistent results. The majority of early studies showed that printed text reading tasks were superior to digital text reading tasks in terms of speed, accuracy, and comprehension, while the other studies reported insignificant differences.” Dillon (1994), for instance, found that reading performance on the computer screen was about 20% to 30% slower than on paper. Other studies (Creed et al., 1987; Ziefle, 1998) showed printed texts reading tasks accuracy as higher than computer-based texts reading. Keenan (1984) found paper-based reading outperformed computer-based reading, although the gaps were not highly significant. However, some other studies (Askwall, 1985; Gould et al., 1987; Oborne & Holton, 1988) showed no significant accuracy difference between the two formats.
So, it depends on one’s taste and curiosity whether to read digital texts or printed texts. But, frankly speaking, there are an overwhelming number of studies which suggest that print-based texts contributed more to increased comprehension and recall than e-texts. For example, Singer and Alexander (2016) found that although students could recall the main ideas regardless of the text type, they were better able to recall key points linked to the main idea and other relevant concepts when reading print. Another study (Jeong 2012) showed higher quiz scores indicating better comprehension in print-based texts, while eye fatigue and strain reported by students was greater when reading e-texts (Research in Learning Technology 2017). Further, the persons reading print-based texts perform significantly better on a reading comprehension test than those reading e-texts. It improves our concentration power and develops our learning and remembering ability. When reading texts of several hundred words or more, it is crystal clear that learning is generally more successful when it is on paper than on screen. “The discrepancies between print and digital results are partly related to paper’s physical properties. With paper, there is a literal lying on of hands, along with the visual geography of distinct pages. People often link their memory of what they have read to how far into the book it was or where it was on the page” (The Conversation). It further writes, “…equally important is mental perspective, and what reading researchers call a “shallowing hypothesis.” According to this theory, people approach digital tests with a mindset suited to casual social media, and devote less mental effort than when they are reading print.”
Narrating this all doesn’t mean that I am rejecting /ignoring the role of technology (digital texts) in our life. But, to the best of my belief, reading printed books has a unique and different taste. A book captures our attention and keeps us focused while reading the text. Above all, printed books don’t have such ill effects on health as digital texts have. Moreover, scrolling lessens our reading comprehension than turning a page. When we hold a book, we receive reminders of how many pages we have read and how many remain, which keeps our mind active. Having a book in our hand brings a different feeling and makes us delighted. As the saying goes, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books and that’s kind of the same thing.”
To sum up, books are a great treasure of knowledge, a valuable asset and priceless wealth. For a bibliophile, there is no friend as loyal as a book. It is high time we cultivate the habit of reading books. Join the reading clubs and visit public libraries. We should establish personal libraries at our homes. As it is said, wear the old coat and buy the new book. If you are staying at home (as COVID lockdown is going on) then pick a book and begin to read it. It will certainly help you to kill the boredom. There are huge benefits and advantages to reading. Without reading, man will not remain a human being but will behave like an animal. Reading should be the essential part of our life. It helps us to learn new things, expands vocabulary, sharpens brain, helps to grow, increases worldview, makes us think, shows new perspectives, improves conversational skills, increases comprehension, fuels imagination, boosts creativity, improves critical thinking, grooms personality, builds self confidence, relieves stress, helps us to dream big, makes us happier. Remember, any civilisation which has achieved milestones had an enthusiasm of reading. In fact, when we Muslims achieved great status, discovered wonderful inventions in science and technology, solved mind boggling issues, provided leadership and called the shots in the world, the only reason or secret behind this all was that we were curious, enthusiastic and great readers. We were following the first revelation (Iqra) of Islam in letter and spirit. Hence, it is only reading which can provide us knowledge, and it is through knowledge we can discover ourselves and the mysteries of universe.
In the end, let me quote Allama Iqbal:

“Sabaq phir parh sadaqat ka, Adalat ka, Shujaat ka
Liya jayega tujh se kaam dunya ki imamat ka”
(Read again the lesson of truth, of justice and valour;
You will be asked to take on responsibility of the world)

—The writer is President of Shopian Reading Club (SRC)

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