While it is always emphasised that a child’s academic education lies quintessentially in his reading, one cannot help but notice that there is little promotion of reading for university students and adults alike. Books and book clubs seem to vanish from our lives after high school, except for the exceptional book worms and the enthusiastic English students. Why can we not read as passionately as we used to? Did we even finish three books during lockdown? Though one may argue that the responsibilities that come with maturity and living away from home mean that we simply have less free time, it is ultimately a matter of priority. If we manage to squeeze an hour for Netflix, why can we not do the same for a book or a newspaper article? No more excuses and denial. It is only because we do not value the importance of reading.
Many of us were fascinated by the fantasy we explored in fairy tales as a child. The frequent contention between fairies and goblins in series like Rainbow Magic, the quests in Percy Jackson and the paradoxical humour and frustration in Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries were our most loyal companions at school and home, through the brightest mornings and the grimmest nights over the years. Flipping through the pages, we are relieved by the kindness and benevolence of the fairies and empathetic to the ‘wimpy’ Kinney and the ‘dorky’ Nikki, associating our unfortunate experiences with theirs. Now, take these books out of your dusty collections again, and you will marvel at the childlike innocence exemplified by these children classics and reminisce about a simpler time, looking for ways to recapture your lost childhood. Look no further. Open a page of fantasy fiction and before you know it, you will be immersed in the world of quests and magic. The compelling plot soon makes you forget all worldly trouble – no more stress and anxiety over coronavirus and Brexit. Indeed, reading novels does offer you a sanctuary, an escape hatch in which society operates under different rules and expectations.
Speaking of a difference in rules and expectations, reading allows us to expand our knowledge of the world through delving into different cultures, perspectives and points of view. For instance, the reading of Le Morte D’arthur introduces us to a world of medieval chivalric ideal, where trial by battle is regarded as an equivalent to God’s judgment of righteousness. Though seemingly detached from and unrelated to contemporary society, one cannot help but notice shadows of the ideals of chivalry cast on gender stereotype and expectations on men to be ‘gentlemen’, as well as the image of sentimentality of women as the last vestige of the figure of a damsel in distress. Thus, reading does not only serve as a means of escape, but also as a glimpse into another culture, whether historical or fictitious, and as a lens into a thoroughly different mode of society, and in this case, a feudalistic and aristocratic one. Whether we agree with, or even, prefer, the societal system is another question, but such a glimpse ultimately broadens our horizons, leading us to question the norms of the society we take for granted. For instance, the reading of dystopias, namely Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World, enhances readers’ awareness on political happenings and warns against surveillance and totalitarianism, encouraging us to pose questions on individual freedom, from the removal of social media posts for the ‘violation of community standards’ as a form of censorship to wider political engagements, and thus enhancing our criticality. Although it starts small with the flipping of a page, the allure of reading lines, paragraphs and chapters put together by geniuses before us unconsciously transform us into better-informed individuals who recognise pressing socio-political issues of the day and are open to various possibilities in terms of perspectives and world views. In time, books transform us in ways we never imagined possible – they offer the path to enlightenment.
I bet you clicked into this article thinking ‘Ha! As if I didn’t have to read for my seminars! My formatives! My summatives! My degree!’ Unfortunately, subject-specific analytical articles that are prescribed for our degrees do not enlighten us in the same way as fictions do, for their objectives and purposes are primarily distinct. Ergo, neither is replaceable. No matter whether you do a humanities degree, reading outside of your syllabus and compulsory reading in your free time and during holidays does not only make it easier to get back to studying at university after a break from academics, but it also offers an irreplaceable sanctuary and brushes up your knowledge and understanding of the world and indeed, your criticality. So what are you waiting for? Grab a book and start reading now!