“Writing is the painting of the voice.” ~Voltaire
Literature isn’t always considered an “art” in the same sense that painting, sculpture, performing arts and other media are, but storytelling is at the foundation of all of them.
Thoughts and ideas are woven together, building on the ones before them and leading to the next. They create a world with its own logic and reasoning, though it can sometimes be hard to decipher it.
The arts, books in particular, have the power to relax and entertain us while making us stretch our brains to understand new concepts or rethink old ones. They open new worlds and new possibilities to us.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey revealed that in 2019 the average American spent just 16.8 minutes a day reading books, magazines or newspapers for personal interest (not for work or school). This was the lowest average reported since the study began 15 years before.
But the trend appeared to reverse during 2020, as the pandemic kept people close to home for months on end and searching for productive things to do with all the time freed up by the absence of commutes, nights out to restaurants and entertainment and travel.
Many people found the answer in their hands, as sales of print books rose 8.2% over the course of the year, according to Publishers Weekly. Books gained even more momentum in the first half of 2021, the magazine says, with almost all categories posting double-digit gains over the same period last year.
Some industry leaders are concerned Americans will drift away from their renewed interest in reading books (or at least buying them) as pandemic conditions improve and their competitors open back up.
Why Should We Read Books?
Reading books, especially fiction, fosters your brain’s continued development as you keep track of plots, characters and backstories; think critically about the author’s message even as you are entertained by the plot; and build up your cognitive strengths until the moment you put the book down.
Books build your knowledge, vocabulary and communication skills. They support your development professionally, socially and spiritually, blazing your path to success in getting that promotion you need at work or successfully leading a volunteer project that fills a need in your community.
Books draw you away from everyday stresses and disappointments and help you decompress into another world or time, a world of imagination and possibilities which can unlock the creativity within you.
You get to see the world through the eyes of someone else, often someone completely different from you. But there will always be moments of self-recognition too, which will build your capacity for empathy with others you find it hard to identify with.
In short, book readers draw a lot of benefits from this one simple activity — and a national Health and Retirement Study found in 2017 that seniors who read books had a 20% lower risk of dying over a 12-year period than non-book readers.