Friday, October 6, 2017

We Need to Read Even More Now

Today I continue my thoughts on reading and how today, in light of every sad and scary and awful thing going on in the world, we need to be reading more, not less. We need to be reading critically and thoughtfully. We need to be reading widely. We need to read for escape and we need to read for knowledge. We need to read to keep our minds sharp and focused. We need to read so we can decipher the truth from the lies (without anyone calling certain things ‘fake news’ and thus putting a kind of censorship on the written word.) If we’re smart, critical thinkers we can figure out “fake news” for ourselves. We need this today, even more.

I am devoting today’s column to the importance of nonfiction in our daily reading. Nonfiction is a broad category which includes everything from magazines and news articles, to books about travel, politics, memoirs, biography, self-help, history, cooking, gardening and on and on the category goes. It includes the large majority of magazines (There are very few fiction magazines these days.) and newspapers (I can only think of a few fiction newspapers.).

A daily dose of nonfiction improves critical thinking, increases your vocabulary, improves your focus, makes you smarter and some studies have even shown it can stave off Alzheimers.

If you study this linked article I’m sure, like me, you will set aside some time to read every day. It will be as important to you as getting in your physical exercise. (Or maybe you could combine the two, by listening to an audio book while you get in that constitutional.)

If you want actual proof - here’s a peer-reviewed scientific study. 

Back in 1990, I was the International Literacy Year coordinator for the province of Alberta. The motto we adopted and printed on coffee mugs and tee-shirts and bookmarks and bags was “We Need to Read.” 
The photo at the lower right is a large poster of the International Literacy Year stamp which I was privileged to receive from Canada Post, who was a major sponsor that year. (Remember when people used to write letters?) 

 Yes, We Need to Read, but twenty-seven years later, I might change it to, “We Need to Read Even More Now.”

Why now? Well, social media is making it so that we can streamline our feeds to only include our own narrow political views. This is called Confirmation Bias and it is very real and it is crippling us and contributing to what divides us.

This didn’t use to exist when we all got our basically non-partisan news from the same two or three television or radio stations at the same time every day. I was a journalist back in the 1980s and my editor was very strict about getting  “both sides” of the story. If I didn’t, if I couldn’t get the other side of the story, he wouldn’t run it. It was as simple as that.

I fear those days are long gone. I was casually looking through a friend’s Facebook postings where she had expressed an opinion about President Trump. The arguments went on and on, maybe 40 comments of people chiming in until finally someone simply wrote, “You’re an idiot.”

Really? That’s what we’ve come to? Calling people idiots and morons who happen to disagree with us?

Today with confirmation bias all around us, it becomes ever more important to read widely. When someone tells you not to read something, calling it “fake news,” that is when you need to challenge that statement with your own critical reading of the issue. Figure out these things for yourself. In the age of Google and Youtube, it’s really not that hard.

As most of you who know me know, I lean a certain way politically, and yet, I try to read smart articles from both sides of the spectrum. I read the articles in Slate and listen to their many podcasts, as well as NPR. Both of these might lean a bit to the left. I listen to CBC on a pretty regular basis (even though here in Canada I don’t find that partisan divide as heated as it is in the US). I try to balance that with news from The Nation, The National Post and I’m a regular listener to The Daily Standard which is a conservative podcast from The Weekly Standard.

I also need to mention The Politics Guys, one of my favorite "both sides" podcasts. Everyone should try to emulate these guys, two long time friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum discuss the news in detail, without resorting to the “You’re a moron” type of discourse.

Short articles are one thing, but longer nonfiction can be quite informative and interesting. Bookmark these sites: Longform and Longreads.

I have both these on my regular reading rotation and have gotten in-depth looks at the latest in nutrition, a question and answer with Stephen King, and the newest science on brain concussions and the NFL.

I mentioned my love for my Kobo eReader in my last column, and especially my new Kobo Aura H20. I can add these articles to my Kobo with an app called Pocket.  Again, I love that I’m not trying to read on my phone. And if you have children? 
Here’s an article on the importance of reading nonfiction to them. 

Don't forget the many nonfiction books out there. Here’s a list of the nonfiction books I am currently reading and which will be reviewed here in the coming months: The Day the Revolution Began by NT Wright, Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen and Does Jesus Really Love me? By Jeff Chu.

What nonfiction are you reading?

NEXT TIME: Part three - The importance of daily—and I do mean daily—fiction reading (Yes, in case you’re wondering. I have saved the best for last)