Reading Matters

by Emily Thorburn

Most mornings for me begin with a similar turn of events. I fall out of bed at some ungodly hour and make straight for the kettle where, still half asleep, I brew myself some coffee in hope of waking. This particular day had begun no differently. After snoozing through the alarm one time too many I gathered my mental (and physical) strength and made it to the kettle. I picked up my usual cup (acquired by one of my parents at a conference many years ago) and proceeded to concoct liquid gold.

I’ll admit, from this snapshot, it doesn’t sound like this will develop into an interesting tale. However, on this day I noticed something about my usual coffee cup (other than the stains of having been used once too many times of course) that in my sleep deprived state, I had missed before: a small inscription around the top rim, spelling out the words: ‘Reading Matters’.

And it was this otherwise unimportant moment that allowed my train of thought to depart on a journey that morning.

Yes, reading does matter, I concur with my cup on that statement – but why?

Thinking back to my primary education, a large focus was (naturally) placed on being able to read effectively, while teachers would spout lines like ‘reading well will help you get a good job when you’re a grown up’. We were encouraged to read anything we could get our eager little paws on, from stories to magazines, even a phone directory if we had one at hand. ‘Reading can make you better’ was much the adopted philosophy.

As I grew older, I noticed the goal posts in this literary game had been shifted. Reading was no longer about the skill itself, but the merit of what you read. Reading was a path to knowledge and could stimulate our thought processes and help us challenge our pre – existing ideas and concepts. We ought to read to learn. It was our duty. What’s more, reading could also help develop analytical skills as well as one’s own writing skills. Once again, I learnt that knowledge, coupled with these skills would make me a well-rounded and employable citizen and of course, well rounded and employable citizens are good for society.

So, as I finished my morning coffee and washed up my cup, I once again glanced at the ‘reading matters’ inscription, feeling with some satisfaction that I have solved the puzzle: ‘reading matters because reading is good for society’. And with that, I placed the whole debate into the metaphorical attic in my mind.

Some weeks later, I was invited to attend a meeting of monthly book club, and feeling it rude to decline, accepted the offer. And it was here, that my ‘why reading matters’ debate once again awoke, as I was forced to reconsider my judgement.

The text studied that month was a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and in keeping with the usual running of meetings; a nominated speaker gave a brief presentation of the plot (or in this case, the person). And yet, it was the not the life of good old Eleanor that took my interest, but the speaker herself. Around eighty years old, the speaker discussed her delight at having some meaty content to engage with, her happiness that the text had taken her some time to get through as ‘every page was an undivided pleasure’, as well as her sympathies and understanding with the character (or Eleanor Roosevelt in this case). In many ways, this demonstrates that irrespective of age, reading has the power to evoke a common humanity within all of us.

The speaker also happily told us about visiting her local library so that ‘a kind librarian could help me Google things about the book’. For her, literature was not a social responsibility, but a pleasure. Granted, she was still reading to learn and I’m sure it was still helping to open her mind to new ideas and concepts, but this was no longer the be all and end all. Reading was good for her, not just for society.

And it was this thought that I realised I had omitted from my original calculations on the subject and it is one that attending a book club gently reminded me of. The attendees were bound together by a common hobby, a social interest in literature, not a social responsibility to learn. Literature provided an outlet for conservation, a pathway for friendships to be forged and in this case of this dear speaker, a reason to brave using the internet. While this book club may not be changing the world or starting revolutions there can be no doubt that reading mattered for this group of people. Reading is good for them.

Once again, the ‘Reading Matters Debate’ as I have dubbed it, has been packed up and placed into storage in my mind (I am sure to resurface again at some stage, as my literary love affair continues). However, for now at least, this is my two cents worth: reading matters because of its many combined functions. Reading links society and the individual, almost symbiotically: the more the read, the more we are educated, a great societal result, while at the same time our own journeys into the literary world can continue to delight and amuse providing a great individual result.

You’re right, little coffee cup: Reading Matters.

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