Last year, the pandemic left me confined between the walls of my home, with no physical social interaction with my friends. I was exasperated. With no work to tend to, I spent all my days in boredom and thinking of the depressing situation resulting from the pandemic. I finally decided to find solace in reading books.

I vividly remember the first time I met Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, how the book stirred up a whirlwind of emotions inside me. When

I couldn’t go anywhere, I could travel to London, Walworth and the countryside. When I was restricted by circumstances to not meet anyone, I met Pip and Estella.

How, in Little Women, I had the pleasure of living with Meg, Amy, Jo and Beth in New England, witnessing the struggles of Jo in becoming an independent woman and a writer, and the hardships that came with it.

Then I had the chance to meet Arundhati Roy and the Bronte sisters. Later on, I also met Emily Dickinson and Oscar Wilde – and then I finally met the great Shakespeare.

While staying at home, I met so many people who were incomparable to those I could meet in reality. The fragile intangibility of the people and places I encountered, made me more drawn to fiction, far from the tribulations of the real world. All these experiences changed my life during the pandemic.

Here is a look at how reading improves our lives and the impact it made on me, changing me forever, and for the better.

Gives a new perspective

Reading gave me an unaccustomed perspective in life, rendered unconventional ideas, allowed me to hear unexplored voices, know visionary opinions and gain an understanding of new concepts.

Reading set my soul free, untethered and unfettered by the limitations that ceased to exist once I lost myself between the pages of a book, making me realise that the world is nothing but a place of infinite possibilities. Perceiving the world through a protagonist’s eyes and empathising with his struggles, gave me a profound insight of how to approach my decisions.

Every revolution that has occurred in history had an impact on the literature of the time. Or maybe it was literature that influenced those events? The world of books and the world we live in are a reflection of one another, both taking inspiration from each other in their own way.

Reading made me look at the world in a new way, since I had had the privilege to go inside the minds of so many great writers through their books, and learn to see things from their points of view.

Cultivates imagination and creativity

Our imagination is what makes us humans, not just flesh, bones and blood. It is the sheer tendency to dream of everything you could be and you couldn’t be, all at once. Without imagination, we would be just as inanimate as the things around us. Reading stimulates our brain, boosting emotional intelligence as well as awareness.

Reading ignites our imagination to come up with imaginary scenarios of our own. Sometimes we start living the life of the protagonist we are reading about and get affected by the things they go through in the story.

Makes you smarter

An avid reader is familiar with history and significant events of the past, which otherwise would have been ignored or not read by the person. Hence being fully aware and always having an abundance of knowledge makes you the smarter one in the room.

Scientists have proven that reading boosts cognitive function, thereby making us smarter. When we age, our brain function slows down a bit, therefore, doctors recommend regular reading to keep the mind and memory sharp. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body, important for its fitness.

Instils empathy and sympathy

Reading novels gave me a more passionate understanding of human affairs, which are otherwise too intricate to be understood by science or logic.

I felt the harrowing ordeal people of Afghanistan experienced when I read Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. The narrator of the author’s pain is the reader’s affliction.

George Martin has said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.”

Reading gave me a new life, a meaningful one. Similarly, the infamous holocaust in 1941, the loss of numerous lives, the bereaved families and the mass slaughter as painful as it seems in the news, made it even more intense when I read Ludwig’s Room by Alois Hotschnig.

Just like that, I came to know of various incidents and tragedies in history — the systematic oppression, the inherent racism in America, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 1945, the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl 1986, September 11 attacks; the exploitation of rights of indigenous people and the list goes on and on.

Furthermore, all the social issues encompassing the contemporary world, such as gender inequality, racial discrimination, civil rights, climate change, access to justice and health care facilities, especially in times of coronavirus, poverty, etc. become more real to people who have nothing to do with it when they read about it. This leads to the generating empathy and understanding of things that are far removed from our own circumstances but which, as humans, we need to be aware of to be more understanding of the world around us.

Opens mind

Reading broadens our mind and makes us more receptive to ideas and change. A reader embraces possibilities, adjustments and uncertainties more willingly. Reading the vast narratives of struggles and adversities and how people overcame it, makes one accept and tackle the challenges unreluctantly.

Reading books of different backgrounds and genres makes you aware of the cultural perception that exists in this world. How traditions and customs make culture, and how culture makes people. An excellent, short Ted Talk by Lisa Bu summarises it brilliantly.

Enriches vocabulary

While reading you will stumble upon many words or phrases which you don’t know the meaning of, leading you to search the meaning of that word. Because of this, now you become acquainted with a new word which you can use in your writing or while speaking.

Having a vast assortment of words will help you express your feelings in a more precise and clear manner. The words you befriend during reading will facilitate you academically while writing an essay, or even during a speech

I want you too, to start with reading one book, one page or one paragraph, and watch how your life becomes more meaningful, content and open to thousand possibilities.

Published in Dawn, Young World, March 27th, 2021

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