There are so many good reasons to read. There’s a whole set of physiological benefits similar to what you get from meditation. So there is lowered stress and deeper sleep and reduced memory loss. And then there are the places that a book can take you that time and money and reality sometimes prohibit like Xerox Park or Jurassic Park. And then there are the people you can meet in the pages of a book. You can walk the jungle with Colonel Kurtz or storm the boardroom waving a tiny phone with Steve Jobs.
Let me give you 4 facts
- 33% of high school graduates never read a book after graduation.
- In college, the number goes to 42%.
- The number one cause of divorce is poor communication.
- The number one predictor of occupational success is vocabulary.
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Reading is the ultimate neurobiological workout. It is to the brain what exercises is to the body. These are quite good reasons illustrating the benefits of reading but there is another reason you should read and that is to read for the words. The consequences of a robust working vocabulary seem small but they are actually many and meaningful. Before getting to them let’s just establish the link between reading and vocabulary. After fourth grade, your vocabulary basically develops exclusively from reading and that’s because written language is so much more diverse than spoken conversation.
If you were to read for thirty minutes a day for a year, you would be exposed to two million words used in context. And they say conservatively that five percent of those words would be new to you or unfamiliar or rarely used words. So that’s a hundred thousand such words that you’re going to see in a year. Let’s say you only retain a hundred, but let’s also say that you’re not one of the thirty-three percents of the high school graduates who never read another book again and let’s also say that you’re getting ready to go to your 30-year reunion. That means that you have been exposed to thousands of new words. And you’ve incorporated them into your own personal arsenal. So as I said at the top, one of the things it does for us is predicted occupational success. And it has been proven that achievement precedes the vocabulary rather than it being a result of.
- I mean how we communicate has such a huge influence on how we are perceived and how we are perceived has such a huge influence over how we behave and how we behave over time becomes basically who we are, to our colleagues and within our profession. And it all starts with word choice.
- A strong working vocabulary is the best defence we have against manipulation both commercial and political. So take for example the whole ballot measure business. So you’ve got a team of word Smiths that are trying to come up with the perfect exact phrasing for that ballot measure, then you’ve got a whole set of media working to translate that into new language and there you are the voter in the booth having to parse those words to made sure hat you can accurately vote your conscience. That takes a strong vocabulary.
- Take for another example listening to a debate. We need to be able to hear and instantly recognise the motives behind choosing certain words over others. For instance affirmative action over reverse discrimination or illegal immigrant over undocumented worker or disability over the difference.
Language literally defines our palette of possible thought. As Helen Keller said that first, she considered herself like a wild animal until she got her hands on words. Language allows for that potent divine moment between friends when we both understand and are understood.