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“… there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book.”
~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

That sentence is one that I smile at every time read it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have an addiction to reading. When I have a favourite book, I love to go back and read it time after time knowing all the characters as if they are old friends. The plot never changes, obviously, but the story often reveals a new side to the narrative on each read-through.

Novels are so much more than pages of words. Certainly, all art has a role to play in assisting us to make sense of our complex social lives and reading can often give us a heads-up on what’s going on in our crazy world. On the other hand, it could make us more confused.

I read recently, ‘that the number one ‘skill’ for workers in the 2020 Future Skills Research Paper, published by The Institute for The Future within the Apollo Research Institute is ‘the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.’

Sense-making is a soft skill that escapes the grasp of smart machines. If we look at the underlying intelligence this soft skill is required for humans to make ‘sense’ – it requires the merge function. The merge function allows humans to take one concept, and apply them to another, to create a new – third – concept.

Unlike the readers of Austen’s era, our leisure appears to be less and reading can be for some a luxury we no longer have. We often say I don’t have time to read but instead, spare time is spent scrolling through social media posts. This slim amount of time available for reading sets us poles apart from Jane Austen’s characters. Somehow with no modern appliances to assist in their everyday jobs they somehow managed to get their work done and still have time to read.

So, is technology offering a shortcut or an excuse for the time and leisure poor. Now, we can simply listen to audio books, great for some but where does listening sit to stimulate our imagination to keep our brains active. Or is it better to have someone else make sense and meaning for us? There’s certainly a risk. I don’t wish my thoughts, my views and my actions to be presented by someone else. Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain requires exercise to keep it strong and healthy.

The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is particularly apt when it comes to your mind. Most of us realise everything we read fills our head with new bits of information. We never really know when any of that information could come in handy. The more knowledge we retain, the better-equipped we become for sense-making and the ability to tackle life’s challenges.

Our individual sense-making is fundamentally how we understand, shape and move within the world. It hugely impacts our identities. What becomes of a society where identity is standardised by a central collection of refined meanings – an interpretation of important ideas with no magic on the pages.

There’s a reading genre for every literate person on the planet, no matter whether your tastes lie in classical literature, poetry, fashion magazines, biographies, religious texts, young adult books, self-help guides, street lit, or romance novels, there’s something out there to capture your curiosity and imagination. Why not step away from your computer for a little while, open a book, and replenish your soul for a few hours.

Read and imagine. Read and reflect. Read and discard but above all else read.

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