Habit is often described as second nature for man. These habits come in all manner of shapes and sizes. Whether it’s the inclination to smoke, to drink, to watch movies excessively, certain behavioral patterns develop when the same activities are undertaken continuously over time, building one’s dependency on them. And out of the many such patterns that must exist in the world, one that interests me at present is the habit of reading, which creates what are called ‘bibliophiles’, whose particular proclivities are catered to by the various book clubs and readers groups that have propped up in recent years.
Like most other habits, this one will take its own sweet time to become part of you. It’s not something that can happen overnight; smoking a few cigarettes does not make a smoker. In the same way, reading a few books over a few days does not indicate a deep-rooted reading habit—this interest is supplementary, not yet compulsory. It can be said that when a specific behaviour becomes a compulsion, fuelled by continuity, frequency and unwavering interest, it has successfully morphed into a habit. Efforts are needed, of course, to plant the first seeds, efforts that are necessary to overcome the boredom that hits us sometimes, for instance, when we try to read. It is only when we’re able to read and process a book without letting our minds wander in a hundred different directions that we can claim to have developed this habit. My respect for writers and authors stems from this very fact, for they are the ones who are able to read consistently and with passion and in turn, produce work that others can read in their stead. We might enjoy flipping through a magazine or glancing at the papers in the morning, but it takes a certain amount of discipline to keep up a regular book-reading habit, something that is often overlooked.
Writers who read extensively thereby possess the ability to perceive things in a different way than the average person. Literature broadens minds, it takes us to places we could never reach in reality, meet characters that could never exist in the real world and encounter ideas and concepts otherwise foreign to our daily existences. Reading is an active mental process; it compels us to think more, to imagine, and to create with our minds. Facts, figures, plots, themes, all these serve to give us essential food for thought. Concentration and focus start showing improvement over time, and our vocabulary—as well our memory—gets a great big boost. Besides, books are probably one of the more productive and cheaper forms of entertainment. Why spend money on a movie when you could curl up with a good book?
So, for anyone out there who finds these arguments convincing, I’d encourage you to go ahead, start reading. You’ll find that the habit will change you in more ways than one, not only in terms of rendering you knowledgeable on the topic of your interest, but also because it builds your creativity and your reasoning skills. Don’t expect the habit to catch on right away, though; if you haven’t been a voracious reader all your life, chances are it’ll take time. But while you’re at it, always remember, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Published in The Kathmandu Post dated 2011 Oct 22