Benefits of being a bookworm

Once the tone is set at a young age and reading habit has been established, books can become lifelong companions and cherished friends

Gauri Gharpure | MAY 06, 2016, 12:00 AM IST

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Every evening, for an hour, grandmother sat reading Dyaneshwari, a thick religious tome in Marathi. This routine remained constant for decades. We were summoned on some days and made to sit and listen to paragraphs she picked out and considered vital for our knowledge. “You children need to cultivate patience and start reading more. If not, at least listen to me,” she would say as she read to us from religious texts or newspaper articles that she was certain we had ignored. Now, nearing 90, one of her biggest regrets is that she cannot read as vigorously. The example grandmother set, devouring all types of books in as many languages as she has proficiency in, is hard to follow but it has proved well worth the effort.

Those who are already in love with reading know the joy of finding a good book unexpectedly. Going to exhibitions and getting hold of new books at discounted rates has a delicious feeling. Even more thrilling is scouting at second-hand book stalls set up by the roadside and chancing upon an author you have yearned for long, lying there just waiting to be found. My introduction to W. Somerset Maugham took place in this manner, on the Lakdi Pul a little farther from Fergusson Road in Pune, where I discovered a splendid collection of books spread on the footpath. No other book shop has since paralleled the quality of that eclectic collection in those humble settings.

The habit of reading should be ideally cultivated at a young age. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) conducts surveys an average of 650,000 children in more than 16,000 villages in 560 districts in India to find how many children are enrolled in school, if they can read according to their education level and if they can do basic math. Over the years, ASER findings have consistently pointed to the need of greater efforts on developing reading skills in primary school children.

Through her research, Catherine McBride-Chang, a professor of developmental psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has shown that early childhood reading is important for the development of visual spatial skills. Interestingly, it is currently estimated that at least half of the world’s children learn to read in their second language. There are valid concerns about children’s reading proficiency in their mother tongue. Regional language children’s books, though available, are less read in most modern households.

Learning First Alliance, a body of various American educational organizations to promote reading skills in children has compiled and published several works of research. Studies suggest that “the foundations for reading success are formed long before a child reaches first grade” and that “one of the best foundations for early reading success is familiarity with the letters of the alphabet. Children can learn alphabet songs, match pictures or objects with initial letters, play games with letters and sounds.” Reading stories at bed time, encouraging visual associations of letters and their phonetics goes a long way.

Once the tone is set at a young age and the habit established, books can become lifelong companions and cherished friends. Personally, I still prefer to hold a book in my hand which allows me to flip through it indulgently, smell the mustiness of yellowing pages and faintly underline beautiful sentences with a pencil. However, those who are hooked to new-age reading methods of downloading e-books or reading on tablets or phones, support their modern preferences with an impressive list of legit benefits. A large number of books can be stored in a light, portable device and makes reading during travel especially comfortable. In-built brightness preferences also allow one to read at night without disturbing anyone. There is increased ease of access to news articles on phone apps. Reading on the mobile, even if it is just flipping through news, has the advantage of keeping one up-to-date with current affairs with relative ease than was possible few years back.

Public libraries are an excellent source of information and one feels that they are under used. When it comes to the choice of genres to read, the sky is literally the limit. Those who say they hate reading probably haven’t found their favourite author yet. There is something written for every individual and it is just a matter of finding it. Some prefer poems, some like fiction. Many people are more inclined towards non-fiction and self-help books too.

Irrespective of reading choices, which are often instinctive and depend on unique personalities of individuals, it is also enriching to go beyond one’s comfort zone and experiment with genres that one finds difficult or boring. More often, frame of reference and self image, two classic barriers to communication, dictate the choices of books we read. One tends to avoid those books or authors whose ideologies or moral standpoints clash with our personal conditioning.

Reading texts that conflict with our frame of reference can be exhausting, but the end result is often engaging if new arguments are not summarily dismissed. One’s world view can significantly broaden if conscious efforts are made to work on such prejudice and read different authors. A quote by Stephen King, published on a complimentary bookmark given by a local bookstore near the Panjim Church puts a helpful point in this context. King says, “Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.”

Gauri Gharpure studied journalism at Columbia University, New York, on a Fulbright grant. She makes paper jewellery. Follow her on twitter @gaurigharpure

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