It is said and commonly believed that today's reader, accustomed to fast food forms of communication and entertainment, are incapable of reading, appreciating, or understanding short stories or plays of the kind we have been sharing. It is also commonly believed by students that they should only be asked to read what they can 'relate' to. Why read about times and people living through circumstances about anything other than here and now?
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Reading allows us to travel to times, places and situations that we might not otherwise experience. Most of use will never travel the entire world and unless science changes dramatically none of us will ever see the past! Reading allows us to experience so many things we would never otherwise experience.
In addition I think it is VERY important to read and learn about people, places and experiences that are unlike your own. If you are only ever exposed to one type of life, it is easy to form misconceptions and prejudices about other people, places and ways of life. The best way to end racism, prejudice, discrimination, religious tension and overall violence and hatred is education. If we can read and learn about other people and their cultures and beliefs we can start to understand them better. Understanding is the key to harmony. The more we read about those different from us, the more we understand our similarities, but also how and why we are different and how to move past those differences.
Lastly, if we only ever read about things we can easily relate to, stories that are like us, reading quickly becomes boring rather than always being a new and exciting adventure.
It is said that we must understand our history so that we do not repeat it. Something similar could be said about literature. We will miss the subtle nuances and vocabulary if we only read about the here and now. When we read about the past, we learn about how and why our society has come to the point it is currently at. We gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the world around us. I also think reading only about the here and now eliminates too much wonderful, non-fiction material. We learn something about ourselves and our possibilities when we read about fictional worlds.
The simplest response I could give is that reading about different times and experiences broadens your horizons and creates new pathways of discovery in your brain. Reading, and learning in general, isn't necessarily about the destination, but the journey. Reading and understanding an unfamiliar circumstance will make you smarter, but also teach your brain to react to new situations... something you will undoubtedly run into in the future.
To me, one of the greatest benefits of reading is the expansive nature of the act. This is true of reading from the simple expansion of vocabulary that naturally comes from reading, but more profoundly we also gain an expanded view of the world.
Engaging in a writer's perspective - especially if it is not one we are familiar with - can broaden our own view of the world, quite literally. We can be taught to notice things we did not notice before and even feel things we didn't know we could feel. This is not an exaggeration, even if it is an expression of my own romance with reading. It's not an exaggeration because it is fundamentally and basically true: reading opens up possibilities of experience for the reader that would not have been available before.
So, why read what you cannot immediately relate to? Read to adds sides to yourself. Maybe a few books down the line, you'll find that you can empathize with people who, before reading, you would have had no clue how to understand.
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