Back when I was little, I’ve always wanted to look back at a time where everything flourished, or at a time of cataclysms. I’ve wanted to see all the tyrants of yore crusading civilizations — epochs of anarchy. I wanted to see the great ancestors taming the wild — hunting and gathering. With time, I grew up — so did my dreams; gradually and incrementally. I wanted to see the universe as I knew it — visit “Barsoom” our planetariums greatly spoke of, fly to the stars aeons away, have a chat with an extraterrestrial, and enjoy the ride through. I wanted to visit Alexandria and visit its library, for I have always fancied libraries. I’ve wanted much more. But Alexandria, as we know it, is barren — utterly desolated — destructed by tyrants of a distant age. The era of hunting and gathering is now gone — no passage backwards in time. Barsoom was visited by rovers — no Princess Dejah, nor John Carter there. It’s a barren landscape with great sand dunes, fiery volcanoes and valleys of death. I’ve wanted to travel in space, and in time. I’d need a machine — a great machine capable of this stupendous feat. I’ve searched for such a machine in a childlike wonder. At last, I found it; it turned out, that it was on my desk the whole time. Those marvellous machines are called, books.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” — Carl Sagan (Extracted from “Cosmos”, chapter 11)
Everything needs a reason.
Everything in life needs a reason; hence, I will start this article by emphasizing why do we read.
To read, something must have been written. The art of writing was invented back in 3200BC , in an epoch of revolution of a kind. It was invented to convey messages from one place to another and to account for the decay of our memory systems. Time flew on rosy wings. The Chinese invented paper, and now, we’re in possession of books — “billions and billions” of books, copied all over the world, waiting for someone to pick them up, and absorb their content. Perhaps, books wait eagerly to fulfil their purpose; that is, to enlighten mankind. Would a book feel content and happy after it has been read? The primary reason for the avalanche of books is spreading valuable know-how — knowledge and comprehension. Thus, it is the primary objective of reading a book. Books provide information which sometimes is almost impossible for us laymen to grasp; for examples, connectomics of the brain, events of distant epochs, “atoms as massive as sun and universes smaller than atoms” , and about people — especially about people, their feats, their mishaps, their courage, and dignity.
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
We all are aware of what knowledge — the know-how of the world — can bring; we’ve heard them all our lives. However, there are certain significant, but not directly-visible outcomes of reading, which I will focus on in this article.
Reading erects a better writer.
Epiphanies of most celebrated philosophers of science of all time were popularized through books — Kepler with his Somnium, Issac Newton, from his Principia Mathematica, and Einstein with his papers on General and Special Relativities. If not written, they might have been forgotten — forsaken and our societies would still be the wanderers of Earthly oceans. But instead, we now look ahead for the stars — our journey to terraform planets — Mars, or Titan. We are at the outskirts of being a Type 0 civilization — we are heading towards Type 1.
Art of writing is a degrading realm. Technology has altered our preconceptions of art; and now, our society seeks a different kind of art — an art that needs less of the synergy of careful speculation, and rationale. Writing is a means of “persistence” — a way of carving in stone. And it is a way of letting others know you — your thoughts. This was the norm of writing centuries back, and the norm still stands.
It was found out, that less than a third of students in 4th grade (28%), 8th grade (31%), and 12th grade (21%) scored at or above proficient levels of writing, in a study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress . Writing is proving to be a massive challenge for the students in higher grades since inherently it is a test of memory, language and critical thinking of something which exists in the real-world, or in pure imagination. Articulation of the mind requires a precise set of vocabulary, semantics and syntax. These skills are, generally, accumulated via reading a multitude of literature; be it books, papers or articles. Writing is a realm of self-work i.e. it requires constant effort. The easy alternatives such as boot camps on writing generally do a good job on grammar, but the outcomes are void of elegance in writing if the outcomes are not supported with your own accumulations. Books are the best teachers and critics. If you research about the scientific geniuses of any age, reading can be seen as a branch in the tree of their lives. Hence, I think, reading is the backbone of writing.
Imagination is the key to Utopia.
Einstein is nothing without his potential to visualize — imagine celestial phenomena inside his brain; it was all about ‘pictures’ for him. Speculation allows us to peek into phenomena which is beyond experimentation. Einstein's epiphanies began with him imagining running ‘with light’ i.e. running at the same pace as light. This was a concept he extracted out from a series of books by Aron Bernstein (Popular Books on Natural Sciences). His speculation lead to the theories of relativity. He could not afford laboratory equipment, and some experiments were beyond laboratories; thus visualization was his only hope.
Books are incredible objects which by reading, you can hear a person directly speaking to you, clearly. You do not have to confine yourself into your room; you can wander around and visit Barsoom, watch Carter rescuing Princess Dejah. You can tweak something and watch what happens. I wonder, what ‘wild’ speculations came to your mind when you read this paragraph; I’d most sincerely like to know.
We all live in a ‘stressed’ world.
Centuries back, there were no IT (Information Technology), no bankers, no economists, or lawyers. It was just a bunch of people physically working on their food and clothing. The steam engine and the transistor transformed the lives of many, along with their daily lifestyles. Think about it; centuries back you are born and you have a steady job — be it farming or taking care of your children. But now, you have to endure hectic ordeals of learning, experimenting and failures. Things have changed, and a multitude of people endure employments which they do not ever want to do, specially in the regions of Asia. What can aid us to escape the reality for a moment, and dive into solace?
Books again to the rescue. They take you journeys, aeons in time and light-years in space. You can visualize our origins, how we were born to know the cosmos, what have we done since the very short period of our ‘tenure’ in the Earth, and what can we do? You can speak to the common ancestor of all mammals, and imagine how far we’ve come along. You can go back to memories you’ve written about which you’ve cherished, which brings a smile to your face. Eventually, you can come back, and face the circumstances with a fresh start. I wonder, what would you read about when you want some ‘blissful solace’? I read Sagan; he’s able to take me in his ‘ship of imagination’ and give a fresh walk-through every time.
Focus is what we all need.
Steve Jobs was one very erudite individuals I’ve ever read about.
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” —Steve Jobs
We all want to get our tasks done well and complete. We hate when our mind wanders when we are working on, say, an article. Not only it breaks our train of thought, it usually makes us feel strained and stressed to revive back our thoughts after they’ve been wandered far away. So how do we remedy this?
Meditation, which was conjured in ancient India, is the most profound way of dealing with this. It helps us, through practice to take our mind to one task. So, in order for you to have your mind in one focal point, you need to practice it. I think reading is a form of meditation. It’s true that your mind wanders when you read, but it is not fallible to external interference. I myself, have experiences on this, and I observe that my concentration and focus have improved due to reading long hours. I’m able to commit to one task (obviously with short term breaks) for a long period of time.
Understand the where you live, how, and why.
It all boils down to this. Sagan eloquently put it into perspective in ‘The Shores of Cosmic Ocean’. I find his touch of words so charming, inspiring, beguiling and ravishing. His cosmic perspective is all that there was, there is and ever will be.
“Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we’re approaching the grandest of mysteries …. For the first time we have the power to decide the fate of the cosmos, and ourselves. The surface of the earth, is the shores of the cosmic ocean. Recently we’ve waded a little way out - maybe anckle deep - and the water seems inviting” — Carl Sagan
How people think, why do we do what we do, why things happen the way they happen, from where we came and where will we go: these are the mysteries encountered in our tenure in this world. Understanding the cosmos is to unravel the greatest mysteries of all time, but we take baby steps. We discover bit by bit. To live in a place of a cosmic chasm, we need to understand its denizens. We need to understand how they think and react accordingly. We need to distinguish how we should live for the betterment of the planet. We need to comprehend what needs to be done. We need to comprehend us. It’s an unfathomable chasm of chaos. It’s too much for us. Is there any help?
Fortunately, there is. There are billions and billions of bits of information, scribbled on parts of dead trees. In them, scribbled are the people’s thoughts — their speculative fabrics clearly about distant epochs and today. A peek of a part of these dead trees is to visit an entirely different realm. A peek of this would be to sneak into another person’s mind. It’s something that even the best of technical achievements could not yield. You can learn about life, its past and its future and remedy your lives accordingly by visiting the minds of others. These dead trees died for our wisdom — they sacrificed themselves for our future. Piles of these dead tree-parts, bounded by covers, are placed in dusty racks, wanting to be looked up. Each pile contains magic — the greatest of human inventions — we call them, Books.
 “The Evolution of Writing,” Denise SchmandtBesserat. [Online]. Available: https://sites.utexas.edu/dsb/tokens/the-evolution-of-writing/.
 C. Sagan, Cosmos. Ballantine Books, 1985. [Online]. Available: http://gen.lib.rus.ec/book/index.php md5=BFC84621195D5E5806256DFD4490ACDF
 Kellogg, R.T. & Raulerson, B.A. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (2007) 14: 237. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03194058