Why Reading Books Still Matters

April 20, 2011

readingphoto © 2008 ladyb | more info (via: Wylio)One of the big questions we’re facing in the 21st Century is the question of books. Will we still need books? Or does everyone simply read blogs. In a world of iPads, Kindles, and Wii, are books important or are they an analog relic of the ancient past?

It is true that the digital revolution has transformed the way we learn and process information. But I want to make an argument that books still matter.

Why Reading Matters

I’m not sure who said it, but it’s a good piece of wisdom. Readers are leaders and leaders are readers. Take a close look at the successful people around you and one thing you will notice is that they are readers. Most people thought of George W. Bush as an off-the-cuff Texan who thumbed his nose at the “elites.” His enemies dismissed him as lacking intellectual curiousity and depth. What most people don’t know is that President Bush was an avid reader. This is what his closest advisors, Karl Rove said:

In the 35 years I’ve known George W. Bush, he’s always had a book nearby. He plays up being a good ol’ boy from Midland, Texas, but he was a history major at Yale and graduated from Harvard Business School. You don’t make it through either unless you are a reader.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, one year the Leader of the Free World read 95 books. While serving as President. That’s around 2 books a week. Quite a pace. Leaders are readers.

Now to be sure, reading isn’t the only thing that separates the successful from the average. And we all know folks who read a lot of books and that’s all they are known for. But when you read the biographies of great men and women, whose lives made a wide impact in their generations, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who didn’t read books. This is especially true of great Christians. Reading good solid Christian books adds a depth of spirituality to your life. It’s a discipline that you’ll never regret.

Why Paper Books Matter

Now today many lament the decline in reading among my generation, say 40 and under. I’m not so sure this is true. I have no statistical analysis to back this up, but I tend to think folks my age are reading as much as in the past, but are reading in differing formats. For instance, many like myself subscribe to blogs, especially those with a love for theology and spiritual depth. This is good and healthy. I’m daily fed by a steady diet of great blog material. In some ways blogs allow you to digest in small portions some rather weighty topics that you might not otherwise choose to engage through books. Others engage through news sites, Facebook, and Twitter. These are all great sources of information. 

Still there is something different about reading books. News headlines, blog posts, Tweets, and Facebook posts give you flashes and chunks of news and information. But books give sweep and context to a subject. They temper false judgements and erroneous assumptions by delving more deeply into an area that you thought you knew but didn’t. This is true both with history and in spirituality. Context is important, especially for a believer. It helps mature our opinions. I’ll give a few examples of this:

  • In knowing and studying your Bible, you’re main sources are your daily Bible reading, perhaps devotional guides, conversations with friends, and hopefully, the regular preaching and teaching of the Word. All of these are important avenues of growth. But even in a one-hour sermon, the pastor is challenged to give you all there is to know about a Biblical topic or text. This is where books, commentaries, devotional material can enchance your knowledge of the Scriptures.
  • In understanding history and the times, it is good to keep up with the news, scan the headlines, read articles and blog posts. But it’s tough to gather the context of a news story in a half an hour. And typically you’re going to get the opinion of the one delivering it. This isn’t good or bad. It’s just the facts. But suppose you read an entire book on say, the economic meltdown, or Wall Street or the War in Iraq. Now you will certainly get the full opinion of the author, for sure, and some books are just empty pages filled with meaningless vitriol. But if you select well-written books, you’ll get a better contour of exactly what is going on.

These are just a few examples of the importance of reading books for growth and maturity. As much as technology advances, I don’t think society will ever outgrow its need for good books. And always those who choose this discipline will be among those who rise in influence and impact.