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What is Reading? (April 18, 2023)

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

That seems like a very silly question. But the meaning when we say that casual sentence has changed vastly over the span of human history. Reading, not very long ago was a rare skill. Today, we assume that people are literate, and when we ask someone to read, that they can. This was not the case five hundred years ago. Stained glass told the story of the various parables for a reason. People could not read, nor did they have uniform access to books.

As time went on books became available after the advent of printing presses but books were not yet common, and most of the items available to read were the Christian Bible and related texts in the western world.

Time continued to tick on and reading became more common, and eventually school became compulsory, leading to a more uniform reading level.

Even then, what we read was very different than what we think of today when we say “Read.” Newspapers were dominant reading content, delivered daily to streetcorners where people walked and got one or had one delivered to their door. It also ensured we were all reading approximately the same story of the world. Books were printed.

All of these things had something in common though. When you read, you were seated, or at least moving slowly, with your eyes predominantly fixed on the page, looking over words in print.

Continue toward modern times. Content continued to expand, but so did the medium. Reading moved digital, though it did not leave behind paper. My wife reads 99 percent of her books on her phone, in the kindle app. People read articles in their phone’s tablets and computers. People read fewer physical books than they have in recent history. But this still has something in common with times gone by.

We are still generally seated or moving slowly and dedicated to the task of reading.

While I believe that reading is a very important part of anyone’s intellectual diet, the reality is that sometimes we are all busy, and sometimes we do not have time to read the way we want to. Does that mean the busy, the distracted or distractable should be entirely cut off from the hobby of reading?

I say no.

Enter, audiobooks.

Technically, I suppose an audio book is not reading. Your eyes do not scan a page, and you are not in fact reading. Theoretically an illiterate person could enjoy a book by this means. Instead of reading, it is a kind of book consumption. Isn’t that the true goal? I want to say that audiobooks are still books and have their valuable place in a reader’s repertoire. I would never surrender reading, because it allows me to chose voices, intonation and other details all myself, but audio books slot into our lives when we are busy.

We can listen in the car on the way to work. We can listen while we do chores or housework. We can listen while we work out. They are portable and free the hands in a way even phone-based reading can not do.

Don’t be shy about audio books. It doesn't make you a lesser reader. If you have a book you want to read, but can’t find the time, find the audiobook. Explore the consumption of stories through any means you can, because even the busy, and the distracted, have the right to enjoy a good tale.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
Apr 19, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Hear hear!

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