From my childhood through my teenage years, I devoured books. Whether sitting in my bed late at night reading historical fiction by Jean Fritz or spreading a blanket in my yard and paging through Jane Austen, books were among my favorite companions.
Reading fell to the wayside in college as class assignments intensified and activities with friends dominated my free time. Yet when I moved to Cincinnati almost three years ago and found myself lonely and bored, I went to the library, signed up for a card and decided to pick up my old habit of reading.
As I’ve reignited my love for the written word over the past three years, reading has not only been a hobby to fill my time, but it has matured me as a writer, friend, neighbor, woman, and follower of Jesus. Here are five reasons I read, and why I think you too should consider reading.
1. To listen and learn
Through books, I’m given an opportunity to become informed about the struggles of others in the world and my community. Last summer, I read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance and walked away with a greater understanding of issues facing a group of people in the United States. Reading gives me a space to hear about difficult topics and learn from those unlike myself. And this is a way to love my neighbor.
Sammy Rhodes puts it this way:
“One of the best ways you can bear witness to Christ is to learn so well from those who disagree that you can sympathize with their perspective, see things from their point of view, and express it as well as they could… Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to learn, especially from those with whom you disagree.”
Reading should never replace conversations at a local level. Books complement my in-person relationships because they offer me an opportunity to explore new ideas and learn from people who I might not have the chance to converse with in my daily life.
2. To refine character
Last year, I read “Hope Heals” by Jay and Katherine Wolf. As a young wife and new mother, Katherine had a debilitating stroke at the age of 26 (the age I am now). Their book chronicles Katherine’s stroke recovery and offers a personal look at how their suffering shaped their family.
As I read their story, I kept asking myself questions: “If their story was my story, what would I do? How would I respond to loss and suffering? Would I trust the Lord’s work and faithfulness?”
When I finished their book, I walked away with a new knowledge of ways my faith needs to mature. Books offer me a means of assessing areas where I need refining and growth.
3. To develop empathy
Currently on my to-read list is “Seasons of Waiting” by Betsy Childs Howard. Though I don’t currently find myself in a season of waiting, people I love are in those seasons. I want to read Howard’s book to more fully understand the stories of my friends.
“Books allow you to grow in your understanding of the challenges, the joys, and the experiences of other people,” writes Tim Challies. “This, in turn, allows you to grow in your compassion and in your ability to love.”
Books help me enter others’ stories, and I’m able to love and serve better as a result.
4. To be inspired
In Scripture, we are commanded to not grow weary in doing good. Books are tools that aid me in that endeavor. When I moved to Cincinnati and began working for myself, I lacked direction and grew frustrated and overwhelmed.
Around the same time, I started reading Karen Swallow Prior’s biography of Hannah More titled “Fierce Convictions.” Reading about More’s commitment to social justice, writing and serving others shook me out of weariness and inspired me to do good through my work of writing, neighboring, volunteering and homemaking.
Books like “Fierce Convictions” help me imagine how my daily life is part of a bigger story, and spur me to think creatively about how I might live for God’s glory in the service of others.
5. To enjoy the created world
I read for many of the same reasons I cook: to enjoy the world God created. Language is God’s idea, and as we engage the written word, we can enjoy the goodness of God’s creation. Reading is not merely a means to an end, but an end in and of itself.
One author describes why she writes this way: “I became a writer because I love the sound and texture of words… and love to hear what happens when they bump up against each other.” And so it is when I read. I love to see how words come together to create beauty and connection.
As I open the pages of a book or hit play on an audiobook, I grapple with the wonder of the language God created and interact with His creation through the written word. Whether it’s imbibing Jane Austen’s quick wit, Mary Oliver’s lyrical imagery or G.K. Chesterton’s sage dictums, I marvel and enjoy the gift of language.
What’s on your bookshelf?
Perhaps you’re finishing this article and thinking to yourself: “I’m glad you like to read, Abby, but books aren’t my thing.” I agree with the sentiment that everyone is a reader and some just haven’t found the right book yet. Finding good books that match your style can take time and a bit of effort.
Reading enriches and forms our lives in ways that few other hobbies can. The rewards of reading are worth the work of finding books that spur you to joy, empathy and maturity as you follow Jesus. You’ve glimpsed the books that line my bookshelf as I’ve shared my reasons for reading. You’re left with one question: What will you read next?