Do you ever get the feeling that people assume if you’re reading, you’re not ‘doing’ anything?
Photo by Joel Robison
I spend most of my time reading. Reading subtitles, reading books, articles and blog posts, reading signs, reading captions at the theatre – pretty much everything I do is connected to reading. My life is text. My second language might be BSL (British Sign Language), but my first language is English. Though I speak, I prefer to read and write – this is my natural language. I express myself far better in writing than I do in person, or at least it feels that way. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I respect other people’s attempts to express themselves in writing.
Quite apart from the benefits and pleasures of reading (expanding your knowledge, making connections, using your imagination), reading is also something that is ‘doing’. I don’t take it for granted and I understand that many people don’t have the same access to books and language. Perhaps being deaf has made me conscious of how my own grasp of language is important. I’ve thought a lot about why my first language is English and not BSL. One reason is because I was diagnosed with severe to profound progressive sensorineural hearing loss at 6, and by then I was already drinking up books and excited about words and language.
My Mum learnt BSL level 1 once it was discovered my sister and I were both deaf, but we rejected BSL through preference at the time. My childhood was saturated with books. My eyes drank them in. I feel that the earlier a child has access to language – either sign language or a mother-tongue, the better equipped they will be. Perhaps the disconnect comes when a language is not picked up until later – when there is a disruption in language acquisition. Many children are deprived of early language – and I mean either sign or spoken. If a child is completely deaf, and they don’t learn any kind of language until later on, it may hinder their language development.
Why do I feel reading is such an important and valid activity? I’m not going to be a snob and say that people who don’t read are missing out (but I do kind of think that, sorry people!), but I am going to say that books have given me many things. They have developed my empathy, intuition and sensitivity to others. The wider you read, the more you will learn about other people, the more you will understand there are many different ways of being.
Photo by Joel Robison
When I was a child, reading often saved me – from the pain of being rejected by friends in the playground, from boredom on days where time stretched out into infinity, from the fear of being an outsider (Matilda). As an adult, reading gives me ideas, introduces me to complex feelings and a deeper understanding of myself and others, comforts me in times when I don’t have the words myself. Then there are the eureka, ‘yes, that’s it!’ moments that come when you read something that perfectly describes a thought, feeling, or way of being that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else.
I feel that it’s disrespectful to say to someone ‘stop reading and go out there and experience reality’ – because there is just as much reality in books as there is out in the world (can you tell I’ve been on the receiving end of this before?). In fact, so many people who read also have a thirst for life – for experience. They want to see things and feel things. They want to support people and exchange stories. Books and articles are other people’s experiences and imagination – a sharing – and they give you the need to share too. Your brain needs to be kept on its toes and to use its imagination – and these skills can be applied to everything else in life.
Books (and longer feature articles) are also one answer to a 21st century problem – the problem of focus and distraction. It means you have the opportunity to switch off your computer, put your feet up and ignore the world of social media. It gives your brain incentive to focus on one thing at a time, to give your full attention to something. When I’m panicking about not being able to focus on my writing or on life in general, I switch everything off, pick up my Kindle or a paperback, and give myself some focusing time. It will switch my attention from the cry of many voices, to one voice, one focus – therefore centring my attention.
This is why the answer to the question – ‘why aren’t you doing anything?’ – is ‘I am, I’m reading.’
‘People might tell you that reading is a way to hide from the world, and sometimes it can be, but in my experience, people who love books are also interested in myriad other things. They love music and movies and travel food and (gasp!) even television. As a friend of mine says, books make you a glutton for life. They show you how much there is to be experienced in the world. So let them do that. Let them make you curious. Let them make you hungry. Let them give you more questions than answers.’ – Rebecca Schinsky, 5 Reading Rules For Book Lovers Of All Ages.