I like to read books. On busy days, I might only get to read for 15 minutes or so, while on other days I’m lucky enough to squeeze in an hour or two. I wouldn’t call myself a prolific reader because I read painfully slow. I write fast, but read slow.

I appreciate strong writing, engaging storytelling, and books that leave a lasting impression. There are books I read more than 20 years ago that I still think about regularly. Sometimes it’s because they made a powerful impression or presented a challenging idea, like “The Fountainhead.” More often, it’s because they delivered haunting or heart-wrenching stories that aptly captured personal struggles, like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Leo Tolstoy’s final novel, “Resurrection.”

With some books, I don’t retain many details, but I do remember particular scenes. This can be in a good way, like the parable of the wicked woman and the onion in “The Brothers Karamazov,” or be tragic, like the torture in “1984.”

Books are a lot like music. They evoke a range of emotions, take us on a journey, and enable us to feel like we’ve gained something important, even if that something is too abstract to adequately describe.

Like with music, books can have deeply personal meanings. I have favorite songs that represent different periods of my life or call to mind certain people or events, or simply make me feel good. Books do the same. They make intimate connections.

I’ve read most of the books that are generally considered to be the greatest books of all time. Those best book lists are usually composed by academics. Some are my favorites, while others are terrible to the point of being unreadable. As with food and music, book recommendations are based on a person’s unique tastes, which means they may not resonate with me and my personal preferences.

A few of my friends are avid readers. It’s nice when we get together because we always end up talking about books. I also enjoy having book conversations with my kids. They’ve been finding books under the Christmas tree since they were little. I’m happy that they still get excited to receive books as presents and enjoy reading. It’s a good habit to form.

A Pew Research Center survey from earlier this year showed 27% of American adults haven’t read a book or even part of a book, or listened to one on audio, in the past year. It’s too bad because reading often correlates with financial and business success. The book “Change Your Habits, Change Your Life” says that 88% of the self-made millionaires interviewed by the author read for at least 30 minutes each day.

Bill Gates told “The New York Times” in 2016 that reading is “the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.” Many other business leaders, including Warren Buffett and Elon Musk, credit reading as a key to their success.

Reading has other benefits, too. Research from Yale University found that people over 50 years of age who read books for 30 minutes or more daily live an average of 23 months longer than non-readers or people who read magazines. That’s because book reading improves cognitive skills, vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. “Books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival,” according to the researchers.

In addition, research from the University of Toronto concluded that people who read fiction are more open-minded and creative. While it’s nice to know that I’m gaining all of these benefits, it’s not why I read. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.


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