Why Reading is Good for Us: Does Anyone Read Anything Any More?

By Abi King | Travel Chat

Apr 26

Gorgeous reception at Al Wadi in Ras AL Khaimah

 

Why Reading Trends Are Changing – And Why It Matters

Two surprising things happened the other day.

The first took place at our book club, a thinly veiled excuse to eat tapas and drink wine once a month while discussing the perilous state of world affairs and explore other subjects that perhaps our other halves would wish we’d stop talking about.

The other took place in a contract request.

As many of you know, I first got into this business with a desire to be a writer (with a length side-shuffle into training and working as a hospital doctor first.)

Contracts to a freelancer are a pretty standard affair, reviewing pages and pages of text which basically involve the client saying “please don’t sue us” and the writer saying “would you please, for the love of all that is holy and good, pay me on time.”

But this one stood out, not least because there was no mention of any actual writing.

They wanted broadcasts. And they wanted video.

Later that same day, I sped out the front door to head to book club, skimming the last (ahem) pages as I waited for my drink at the bar.

And then the others arrived, including the one who always reads the book, in full, often twice if he’s read it before.

I suspect you can see where this is going.

He hadn’t finished the book.

Reading newspapers while floating in the Dead Sea

We are all reading less. But does it even matter?

From my own point of view, I know I read less now than I used to (which is, in large part, why I joined the book club in the first place.)

A migrainous, nauseated pregnancy followed by a luscious newborn with no inclination to sleep has reduced this even more.

But it turns out I’m not alone.

Some numbers to back up a hunch

The National Endowment for the Arts in the US reports a drop in the number of adults regularly reading literature from 57% in 1982 to 43% in 2015. And UK figures seem much the same.

There are plenty of ideas behind why this might be.

Films and TV used to be consumed in an external manner – which is jargon for saying people used to go out to the cinema or sit around and watch the same program on TV at the same time.

Now, we have it all on our phones, individually, when ever we like.

Perhaps it feels that reading takes effort – it certainly does to me when I’m tired. Far easier to scroll through some tweets or a pretty instagram feed.

But (apart from those who ply their trade as writers) does any of this matter? Is it simply elitist snobbery to want people to read more? Is it nostalgia for a supposed simpler time?

Or are there good reasons as to why we should be reading more.

Instinctively, I felt “yes” but I wasn’t too sure as to why.

reading in the Hague

Why Reading Is Good For Us

The Reading Agency claims that reading for pleasure correlates with lower rates of depression. There is evidence that it may protect against dementia in later life.

Apparently, reading literary fiction can help improve personal relationships and develop empathy – not only in childhood but beyond.

I think perhaps the most intriguing quote I found was this:

Enjoying reading is important, but a good story does much more than incite dopamine. It’s a bonding tool, one that reminds us of our place in a larger world, much of which we’ll never actually see with our eyes. By imagining through the eyes of others, we tap into the heart of their culture, circumstances, and surroundings. It makes our world a little more complete knowing that we share experiences, and celebrate differences, across a broad spectrum of possibility. Derek Beres.

And this, from President Trump as he revelaed how many books from former presidents he had read:

 “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”

So what to make of this all. What do you think?

The study in the Al Wadi Villa

The study in the Al Wadi Villa

So, where do we go from here?

It’s pretty clear that in the world of making a living from blogging, the perceived value of articles seems to be falling. And there’s no doubt that I’d have got more traffic to this article if I’d made up a list of the 10 best books to read about travel (which I’m not discrediting, by the way. I should write that article too.)

Since Lonely Planet invited me to broadcast to their million or so followers live online, I’ve certainly been bitten by the video bug. Heck, I’ve broadcast live in over four continents now and love the creative challenge of telling stories using different media. I’m enjoying discovering instagram stories and will soon launch a weekly live chat there which I’d love you to join.

But, like the rest of the modern world, I am very, very short on time.

So what should I do next? Read more? Write more? Record more? How about you? What would you like to see more?

Or is everything just perfect and there should be less of a focus on more, more, more, even when we’re talking about healthy or creative pursuits?

Let me know: what do you think? (Oh, and click around and read a little more of this blog, would you? ;-) )

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Behold, ladies and gentlemen, one of the most beautiful writer’s desks I’ve ever seen. What makes it truly amazing is the bit you can’t see: the view in the distance of the African plains and the landscape that inspired the creation of The Lion King’s Pride Rock. I’ve stubbed my toe against writer’s block a few times lately and so it got me thinking of all the inspiring places there are in the world for writing (see the link in my profile.) Paris, Havana, Hanoi. But then I remembered Stephen King’s words: “Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.” So, tonight I’ll dream. And then tomorrow it’s time to get back to work. Have a great week everyone, whether you’re dreaming or working. Abi #originalexperiences #writingspace

A post shared by Travel. Think – Abigail King (@insidetravellab) on

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About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • Andy says:

    This is an interesting post Abi. I think this is gradually happening and I see it in myself too. Is this why you’re writing shorter, news-style paragraphs these days? (attention span?).
    Thankfully, my son is reading more and he now gets 15 minutes of reading time each night before bed (he’s 7). Saying that, I’m taking about a month to read a book these days I’m so busy.
    I think video is interesting and a part of change but I would still like to see more in-depth writing. But then I don’t always have time to read it! Oh dear…..

    • Abi King says:

      Yes – it’s so interesting to look back at Dickens, for example. The sentences are so long, never mind the paragraphs! Now we’re told readers get confused beyond 25 words and paragraphs are becoming more and more like sentences.

      Yet it’s interesting that you mention children. The gold standard in the UK is to read to your children every day (especially before bed) yet, like so many things that we know are good for us, many of us make the effort for our children but not ourselves.

      I’m really enjoying playing around with video – it does show different things. But I do miss the “inner journey” of in depth writing.

      Love the last sentence – sums it up!!

  • Rebecca says:

    This is such an interesting post and something I was thinking about just recently, particularly in relation to blogging. I was reading articles about SEO and how you need to be writing 1500 to 2000 words and I thought, do people even read posts that long these days? I definitely need to read more – I’ve only read three whole books this year!!! (from someone who used to read 40 in a year on average) – but as you say, I also need more time.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, SEO. Yes, it’s interesting that the advice is currently to write longer articles yet we’re all reading less. Despite what the search engines say, I still think they have a hard time working out what an article is about. Also, as a blogger, people will search for lists of things to do somewhere, which is why those posts do well in search. But no-one is ever going to search for this article yet (I think!) we’re having a really interesting conversation about it.

      So, I think SEO is to blogging like tax returns are to businesses. Not evil, but something of a thorn in the side and not entirely straightforward!

  • Clem says:

    I’ve made it a resolution to read more books. Last year I managed to read 26 books by reading just before bed every night. This year I’ve set out to read 36, which means that I have to read when I have a spare moment. No more mindless scrolling of social media or sneaking in another episode of a boxset on Netflix when I have a book to read. I’m sleeping better and have also found that I relax a lot more over my quiet evenings. Making reading a priority is definitely the way forward for me.

    • Abi King says:

      Perhaps the answer is just as simple as this. A bit like exercise! Go for a workout first thing in the morning. Read a book just before bed. Rinse and repeat for a healthier body, mind and soul! Maybe I should make a start. Even if I can only manage a paragraph at the moment – if I wait until I have “time” to read more then it just won’t happen at this busy stage of life…

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