No, I’m not talking about your child who loves to read. I’m talking about an adult who actually picks up a book and reads it from the beginning to the end. Because I am a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time around people who read books. I began to take it for granted that people liked to read.
One day, a coworker of my husband was visiting and I mentioned a book on management I had just read. He nodded politely as I shared some of the information from the book. But he didn’t do as other book lovers do, he didn’t ask the name of the book, the author, and he had absolutely no interest in knowing more about the material in the book.
Thinking that I was boring him with my talk of a book I’d read, I decided to give him a turn. “Rob, what have you read recently?”
Rob looked at me. Blinked. Blinked again. “I don’t read. I haven’t picked up a book since the day I left college.”
Rob’s response stunned me. I thought everyone picked up a book, looked it over, caressed it, opened the front cover, turned to the first page and prepared for the magic of being drawn into the mind and world of the author. When I read, I’m no longer present in the physical world. Someone can speak to me while I’m reading and I don’t hear them.
Apparently this behavior is called “deep reading” and is become more and more rare in today’s world of 140 character tweets, thumbed out text messages, and shorter and shorter emails.
This is a problem because studies published by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, has suggested that people who read fiction are pretty nice people. They are capable of greater empathy and have an increased ability to offer opinions, discuss beliefs and interests that they don’t personally possess.
Deep readers consider new ideas without rejecting them out of hand. The world needs more readers. I’m married to a reader, so I didn’t notice the change. But it makes sense. Readers have greater life experiences because they have traveled through the lives of other people, learning what it’s like to walk around in another man’s shoes for a while.
Mar has done more studies that suggest that the more children are exposed to stories, the keener their “theory of mind” is. Well-read children are not only smarter, but wiser. They adapt to new situations more easily and have greater empathy for others.
In short, readers are wonderful people. When you find yourself drawn to a person for their engaging manner, their open mind, and their ability to empathize with your situation, chances are good they are a reader.
When I first heard that Rob didn’t read, I was stunned. Later I saw that he lacked the very traits he needed to become a good manager. His close-minded tactics, his inability to empathize, and his rigid ways have set him on a collision course with a painful reality. Now when I think of Rob and other non-readers out there, I feel sorry that they will lead such an empty life.