I admit, this post is a little self-serving. It benefits me if you read more, and if more people read; I am an author, after all. It also might be ineffectual; if you’re on this site, reading this blog post, you’re probably already a reader, and I don’t need to convince you of the benefits and importance of continuing to read – you’ll do that, anyway. However, this is not just a creative ploy to present a moralistic argument for why you should really go read more Blood Magic (although you absolutely should do that). Every now and then, I’ll be telling a friend about a great book that I just read, or I’ll recommend a book, or I’ll be telling someone about my own most recent writing efforts, and their response will be something along the lines of “I try not to read anything more complicated than The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
Now, nothing against The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but there are so many more books out there, just waiting to be devoured. Don’t think of books as a way to learn, although they are certainly that. Don’t think of books as books. Think of books as a means of transportation. Not reading past The Very Hungry Caterpillar is akin to not using any mode of transportation more advanced than a horse. With a horse, you can cover only slightly more distance in a day than you can walking (although more easily and with more gear). That’s about thirty miles, give or take (it depends on terrain, fitness level, amount of gear, and a host of other factors). If it takes you a full day to travel thirty miles, you’re probably not going to travel more than that very often. Your world, in other words, is about sixty miles in diameter, and everything further than that is part of the mysterious “outer world,” and certainly anything on another continent might as well be another solar system.
If you have a car, or a plane, you can get a lot further a lot faster. With a plane, instead of covering thirty miles in a day, you can cover perhaps up to six hundred miles in a single hour (most passenger jets cruise at a slightly lower speed than this, for reasons of fuel efficiency and noise reduction, but even if they were travelling at a measly three hundred miles an hour, it would still be a whole lot faster than a horse). Not reading is like not being willing to get on a plane – you’re going to see a lot less of the world, and what you do see will take you a lot longer.
Books enable us to travel not only to places in our world, but to places that even our current spacecraft can’t reach, to the past, the future, to places that exist only in our imaginations. Books, in other words, broaden our horizons beyond what any piece of transportation technology could ever possibly achieve (and this is coming from a rocket scientist). Not reading means forgoing all of that potential.
We all of us get to live only a single lifetime, which means that we can only directly experience our own lives. Books enable us to experience what it’s like to be someone else, and to do things that we might never have the opportunity to do. That might be through a biography, or through an epic fantasy. The genre is unimportant – books, no matter what subject or genre, all have something to share.
I try very deliberately to read broadly. As much as nothing is likely to supplant my fondness for speculative fiction, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy biographies, philosophies, scientific papers, and all kinds of other literature, as I hope that you’ve seen from the reviews that I’ve posted on the site (I promise that there are philosophy works that I have enjoyed, despite my rather negative reviews for Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, and Justice as Fairness). Every book, even books that seem just for fun, even alternative world fantasies, even books that are about something that you completely disagree with, have something to teach us.
There’s no one thing that any single book is going to teach – it will teach something different to everyone. Whatever books you read, whatever genres they are, whatever topics they cover, they have something of value, or they wouldn’t have been written. In my experience, most of the people who no longer read say that they don’t because they haven’t had good experiences with books. Many of them will go on to tell you about that one book or series that they read that they loved, but they won’t have found anything to follow it. So my assignment for you is simple: find someone who doesn’t read, and give them a book that you think will hook them on reading again.