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A Teen's View

Reading to Live

Olivia Sielaff

(Feb, 2011) By now we’ve all accomplished our new year’s resolutions, are still working on them, or have completely forgotten what they were. It happens almost every year for me so that I haven’t made resolutions for the past few years. But this new year, I’ve made one resolution that I think will be easy to keep and beneficial for me. I have made the decision to read more. That’s it. To read more. Well, that’s not really all there is to it. What I mean is to read more substantial books and articles.

If you know me and the books I read for school, you’d probably think that’s a pretty silly or easy resolution. I’ve already read many of the essential classics ranging from the works of Plato, Homer, and Virgil to Aquinas, Shakespeare, and Locke. But there’s still so much more to read and learn!

Unfortunately, many of us today don’t read good books as much as we should. Right now texting, social networking, gossip magazines, and videos divert our attention. Don’t get me wrong, all these new technologies are awesome and have their place, but it seems like they are replacing the way we learn and communicate and convey messages. Today it’s all about seeing how many little bits and pieces of information we can swallow and digest. A simple ‘hmu’ text or a short 140-word tweet is all we need to get a message across. However, I think this "short and sweet" way of communicating has made us impatient when it comes to reading books or articles. Honestly. How long can we go reading a book without checking Facebook or texting? It happens to me a lot. I try to read a book, even a very interesting one, and sometimes all I can think about is updating my status or seeing who commented on my pictures. Also I’ve noticed myself skimming the pages of a book for just the facts or important words instead of going deeper and paying attention.

I recently stumbled on this quote in the autobiography of Malcolm X. He said, "The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive." This is why I made my resolution. I want to be ‘mentally alive’, too. But what exactly does that mean and how can reading help?

The newest ways of conveying information seem to make me "mentally dead." If everything is about the here and now and what is going on in the immediate future, we don’t have a chance to think further than our next tweet or status update. Because texting or social networking doesn’t go very deep, it makes us think less and ask fewer questions. In short, we use as little mental effort as possible.

On the other hand, we should be ‘mentally alive’ as Malcolm X puts it. We should be able to think for ourselves and express ourselves clearly. Reading can do this. Think about it. What do you as the reader have to do when reading? You have to first be awake. It’s very hard to read when you’re half asleep and then try to remember what you just read. You should also pay attention to what you’re reading. Ask questions to the author and to yourself. What is the author trying to tell me? What am I learning from this? You should also bring your own perspective and insight to what you’re reading.

Ultimately, reading helps us to be ‘mentally alive’ because it makes us think deeply, analyze situations, expand our vocabulary, and ask important questions about others and ourselves. When reading articles in reputable magazines or newspapers (like the Emmitsburg News Journal), we are able to expand our knowledge of current events and local or world issues. In this way we can relate to others and ask questions and reflect on how certain events impact our community and world.

This is why I love contributing to and reading the Emmitsburg New Journal. This paper is unique by the fact that it doesn’t just give us the bare minimum of events going on; the ENJ really gets into what the people of our community are thinking. It’s a venue not just for local events, but also for the writers to pose thought-provoking topics to us residents about our life here in Emmitsburg. The ENJ offers a deeper look into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of certain things that are occurring here. By reading the interviews, stories, opinions, and histories in the ENJ, and other papers like it, we can better understand and relate to the people in our community. And that’s just one important reason for reading these kinds of newspapers.

When reading good books, either fiction or non-fiction, we can enter into a conversation thousands of years old. It’s a conversation among the great authors of the world and their audiences. It’s a conversation that people have always been contributing to. It’s a conversation that focuses on life and death, love and loss, society and government, redemption and damnation, and order and chaos. Reading good books like Western and American classics, poetry, historical fiction, fantasy, and biographies help us to ask radical questions and find radical answers every human has looked for since we’ve existed.

When we read we are pursuing genuine and true knowledge, whether we realize it or not. And when we find what we’re looking for through careful, active reading, that knowledge we gain becomes all the more ours because we put effort into finding it. So instead of reading bite-sized tweets and text messages all day long, read a whole feast of something that you have to chew a few times and digest to fill you up. Make the resolution to read the newspaper everyday or a chapter in a book before going to bed. Make the resolution to read something with substance, that makes you ask questions, interests you, and in the end leaves you feeling ‘mentally alive.’

Read other articles by Olivia Sielaff