How does reading affect us?

By Daphne Fetsko- 12th Grade, City Charter High School

Reading is one of the most important things in my life for many reasons. One of the reasons is that it opens my mind up to the world and makes me think deeply about the world around me, often changing my perspective of the world in the process. Different books make me think about different aspects of my life, such as relationships, social issues, my place in the world, and how others think or feel around me. Reading is without a doubt the most beneficial de-stress remedy for me, and I’d like to start my sharing some of the books and authors that have had the largest impacts on me.

One of my favorite quotes from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

My absolute favorite book of all time is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This book has been the most eye-opening and inspiring to me in several different ways, but most significantly because I can relate so well to the protagonist Charlie. Since I am a pretty quiet person, I can strongly relate to him with being a “wallflower.” Being a wallflower, someone who observes the world around them and understands it, reminds me of myself and lets me know that this can be a positive thing. Charlie is able to observe and understand Patrick and Sam because of his quiet personality, and this is definitely something I find myself doing as a quiet person. While reading this book, I find myself being Charlie, which I believe is one of the best qualities a book can have (being able to feel like you are one of the characters). This book connects to me very strongly on a personal level in a way no other book has, which is why The Perks of Being Wallflower is my favorite book.

Now to talk about my favorite author, Judy Blume is the most inspiring author to me for various reasons. I have been fascinated by her books since I started reading them when I was about eleven, not just by the stories, but by the writing style as well. Because I love to write and even dream of publishing a book some day, the writing style of a book always has a strong impact on my interest in the book. A poorly written book is difficult for me get engaged in even if the story itself is entertaining, and the way Judy Blume writes all of her books keeps me extremely interested. The way the characters in her book speak is very realistic, not overly proper or cliched like I’ve found many books to be. The characters talk to each other like real people do, using lots of emotion at times but like other times in real life, not much emotion is shown. She has the best character dialogue I have ever seen, and this gives me ideas on how to write my own stories. The relationships between the characters are also very realistic because they don’t always turn out happy in the end – she shows this in both romantic relationships and friendships in her stories. The overall writing style Judy Blume uses is very engaging, and continues to inspire me as a writer.

There is so much more I could say on how reading inspires and affects me, but I would like to share how others are affected by it. To find out how others are affected by reading, I asked a small group of individuals I know to answer some questions on how reading affects them.

 

Dan Nolting, librarian at Chatham University

  1. In what ways does reading affect your outlook on life/view of the world? (Emotionally, socially, etc.)

It makes me happier, having a place to go to escape; as well as being more tolerant, by getting facts about something that I didn’t know much about before.

  1. In your opinion, what is the most beneficial effect of reading? Why do you think reading has this effect?

It opens the mind, by putting others’ words and concepts together

  1. What books and/or authors are the most inspiring to you and why? What is it about these books or authors make you think deeply or change your thinking?

I like a little bit of everything: fiction (Donna Tartt), science fiction (James Corey), history, social and political commentary. It changes. I like mixing it up – I think it enhances the perception of each different genre. (i.e. how a space alien may relate to a corrupt politician)

  1. How well do you relate to characters in a book? Why do you think we often find ourselves relating to book characters?

If its written well, I become a character. Good writing will do that.

  1. If you were to write a book, what type of story would it be? What aspects of your life would be most inspiring in the writing process and character development?

I actually do a little writing myself: sort of a science-fiction with social commentary mixed in. Its for fun. There is always a portal to life events that can be drawn from, even the most traumatic. It can be very therapeutic.

  1. In what ways do you see our culture lacking interest in reading? What effect do you think this has?

Our current culture is threatened by reading – it forces people to think and analyze before making impulsive decisions.

Karsen, classmate at City Charter High School

  1. In what ways does reading affect your outlook on life/view of the world? (Emotionally, socially, etc.)

I feel as if reading has affected my outlook on life because I want to value more of what life is. I read a lot of books where people die and it happens out of nowhere, so it makes me want to live every day like its my last.

  1. In your opinion, what is the most beneficial effect of reading? Why do you think reading has this effect?

Reading has definitely expanded my vocabulary which is a huge benefit for someone who is going through high school constantly working on papers. I think reading has this effect because there are words in books that I am not going to know.

  1. What books and/or authors are the most inspiring to you and why? What is it about these books or authors make you think deeply or change your thinking?

Perks of being a wallflower has inspired me because at the time when I read that book I was in 8th grade and scared to death of high school. It made me a lot more relaxed going into high school knowing that there will always be people there for me.

  1. How well do you relate to characters in a book? Why do you think we often find ourselves relating to book characters?

Depending on the book that I’m reading I can definitely relate to characters, but most of the time I do not. I feel as if authors create characters to connect to someone in some way, wether it’s through their struggles or the way they are.

  1. If you were to write a book, what type of story would it be? What aspects of your life would be most inspiring in the writing process and character development?

I would probably have a book of poems, I know it’s not a strong but people could still relate to good times and bad times in my life.

  1. In what ways do you see our culture lacking interest in reading? What effect do you think this has?

The main way that I see our people lacking is in education. I know that we read books all the time, but some people just do not like to read. This can really put someone behind in school and in terms of vocabulary too.

Nicole Palmer, former teacher at City Charter High School

  1. In what ways does reading affect your outlook on life/view of the world? (Emotionally, socially, etc.)

Reading gives me an outlook to explore other people’s experiences and opinions even if I have never met them.  At times in my life when I felt alone because I was having experiences about which people can be uncomfortable talking. I was always able to find a book, article or blog written by someone who was having the same feelings and doubts. Knowing that I was not alone in those moments gave me hope; it reminded me that the feeling wasn’t final.  There was  more the come.

  1. In your opinion, what is the most beneficial effect of reading? Why do you think reading has this effect?

Reading fiction improves the brain’s connectivity.  It increases the strength of pathways in the brain while making new connections inn the same way that lifting weights increases muscle mass.  Creating and strengthening pathways in the brain leads to increased empathy, problem-solving skills and

  1. What books and/or authors are the most inspiring to you and why? What is it about these books or authors make you think deeply or change your thinking?

The lists of books and authors who have inspired me is quite extensive.  Different book and authors have been important to me throughout the various stages of my life.  However, the common thread though out my life is that the authors and books that I treasure are the ones that have made me feel connected at times when I was feeling alone.  These books and authors helped to give me a voice, made me laugh, and made me think.  Most recently the graphic novel Marbles has been a very important text for me because it chronicles a woman’s journey through being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treatment.  I discovered the novel at a time in my life when I began seeking treatment for my own bipolar diagnosis. Although my friends and family offered support, they could not really understand how I was feeling, and I was not able to verbalize it.  I shared Marbles with them,  It became their instructional guide of how to support me to the best of their abilities.

  1. How well do you relate to characters in a book? Why do you think we often find ourselves relating to book characters?

I am a very empathetic person so connecting with characters in a book is one of the joys I take from reading.  I have loved some very mediocre novels because I have connected so strongly with the protagonist.  Connecting to these characters gives us an outlet, a way of taking  quick break from ourselves and a way to have experiences to which we may not otherwise have been exposed.

  1. If you were to write a book, what type of story would it be? What aspects of your life would be most inspiring in the writing process and character development?

Comedy is an important genre for me, and when I think about writing, I always plan to do so with a comedic approach.  I have considered writing a book of short stories based on the oral traditions that had been passed down to me from my immigrant grandparents.  I have considered writing a novel based on my experiences working in the fields of social services, mental health and education.  The aspect that would be most inspiring would be how much I care about the people who shape the stories and events that I would want to write about.  In the past, when I’ve written a short story, the process became a way for me to memorialize an uncle who play a very big part in teaching me how to sincerely care about other people.

  1. In what ways do you see our culture lacking interest in reading? What effect do you think this has?

Reading anything beyond a headline or bulleted list seems to be an inconvenience for some many people know.  The idea of delving into the pages of the story, connecting with the characters, using high-level thinking skills does not appeal to many people.  In the classroom, I have seen skills like inferring and using context declining amongst students who do not read in their leisure time.

Alexx, classmate at City Charter High School

1. In what ways does reading affect your outlook on life/view of the world? (Emotionally, socially, etc.)
Reading has been one of the largest things to effect my outlook on life. I have been a vigorous reader since I was a young child, and it has shaped the way I look at the world today. Coming from a somewhat complicated household, I have always found refuge in pages and comfort in the bendable spines of my favorite paperbacks. These stories that I continued to read as I grew older and faced my own conflicts helped me remember that I was not alone in my thoughts and in my feelings, no matter how displaced and isolated I felt. Every time I’ve hit a wall and thought myself completely helpless, authors that bare their own soul show me that the world is not black and white. Not to be melodramatic, but when you literally read between the lines, books can paint a much colorful and hopeful picture.
2. In your opinion, what is the most beneficial effect of reading? Why do you think reading has this effect?
For me, reading has too many benefits to count. Academically, it is such a useful tool for all levels and all ages. It’s necessary in extending your vocabulary and sharpening your cognitive skills. But in and out of school it also teaches understanding. I have three younger siblings, and each of them have varying reading levels. From what I have seen, in the ones that enjoy reading and do often, there is an understanding present. You can communicate complex emotional or social ideas, and they receive them so much better than other children that do not read.  You are met with empathy and wondering as opposed to short answers and distraction. I think it is kind of arrogant to praise myself and the way reading makes me better, but in people I have a close relationship with reading has introduced emotional expression and perspective in young minds.
3. What books and/or authors are the most inspiring to you and why? What is it about these books or authors make you think deeply or change your thinking?
The world is already complicated without social networking stations and media outlets lying to you. Authors that seek to tell the truth are the most inspiring. Sometimes it’s their own truth, a reflection of themselves on paper for you to dissect. That kind of vulnerability is nothing short of admirable. My favorite author in that case would be Ellen Hopkins, who has continuously laid out her soul for the rest of us empty kids to take part in. In her fame she has opened conversations otherwise too taboo to discuss to mainstream media. These books are eyeopeners to some and testaments of truth to others.
4. How well do you relate to characters in a book? Why do you think we often find ourselves relating to book characters?
In all honesty, I find myself relating to every character I read. It’s kind of a measure on whether I think a story is good or not. I think we often relate to any character that is well rounded and has been fully developed. Even if the character is doing something the reader thinks they would never do, that isn’t the point. A good author has a good grasp on human psychology.  Because it’s not what a reader SAYS they would do, it’s what the reader desires to do, in their most truthful moments. That’s why I think you’d find quiet and shy kids loving the most daring of characters, and the most scornful or cynical of us diving into a hardy romance. We are complex creatures, and authors that make their characters a reflection of that have the most success in reaching their readers.
5. If you were to write a book, what type of story would it be? What aspects of your life would be most inspiring in the writing process and character development?
I would write a story that tells the truth I was never told. I would hope to inspire readers to get up in the morning and keep fighting. I would write to reveal a beauty through my words that is otherwise invisible in the real world.
This is kind of super personal and deep. I’ve left this question for last, but I don’t think I can really answer it. I’m sorry.
6. In what ways do you see our culture lacking interest in reading? What effect do you think this has?
Mainstream media has systematically shunned the intelligent for such a long time. Our culture has a real sideways take on success, and being smart or well rounded is not one of them, at least our media. It’s much harder to find instances in our culture where the interest in reading goes farther than wanting to look mysterious or edgy in a coffee shop.This will have an extremely detrimental effect on upcoming youth and on our culture as a whole. We are downsizing our brains and condensing entire ideas into 30 second snipets of bs. Lack of interest in reading creates a lack of interest in questioning the world around you. And if you don’t question your world – your status – , who will? As the population sinks farther into their own ignorance, there will be little hope for independent thinkers and the strong minded in the future I’m an optimist though, and hope I am just not hanging out in the right places and there is really hope for us after all.
Just from asking these four individuals how reading affects them, you can see that reading truly does change our lives in ways media simply cannot. Many like myself and the participates in this article are extremely passionate about reading and find themselves getting sucked into the story as if they are one of the characters. Though some would argue with this, as my classmate Alexx strongly emphasized above, reading definitely gives us a strong understanding of the world around us on a variety of things. There are many experiences that we will never actually experience ourselves, but how can we relate with others if we can’t put our self in their place? And I think reading does just that; it takes us mentally to a different world that allows us to understand others and understand importance issues in the world that we may not be facing.
Given the issues the world is facing today, such as racism and LGBTQ discrimination, being able to put yourself into the place of someone else is tremendously important, and we can see that many in the world have neglected to do so. Books can inspire us to be more empathetic people, and as all of my participates in the article mentioned, the lack of reading in today’s culture is worrying because it is preventing people from thinking deeply. In a world with so many types of people, ideas, and social issues, the ability to think deeply about the world around us is essential, and reading is one of the best ways to expand our minds while also benefiting ourselves.

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Daphne Fetsko is a senior at City Charter High School in Pittsburgh. A resident of Bloomfield, Daphne has gotten much reading, media and writing experience in Pittsburgh at her high school. Part of her school’s Digital Media Club. Daphne has had strong experience in photoshop, premiere, and using different types of camera to film school events. She also takes honors in her history class, getting the chance to write blog posts about politics, world trade, and social media.

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