Studies show that reading is beneficial in a host of ways, from helping to keep our minds sharp to reducing stress. Yet most people read at a pace true book nerd might refer to as lightly—perhaps a book or two per year. For the true reader that’s a laughable pace; truly voracious readers might finish a book a week, or one a day. Here’s the thing, though: voracious readers aren’t just entertaining themselves—they’re training themselves to be better people. Here are 10 skills only true readers possess.
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1. Situational Awareness.
People who read heavily encounter a lot of unexpected situations, if only on the page, and are thus trained to carefully note details on the fly. This skill carries over into real life, where the same attention to detail and anticipation of small mysteries that serves us well while reading complex novels allows us to assess a situations quickly and stay aware of what’s going on around us (even when we’re reading while walking).
Example: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Books allow us to experience different lifestyles, cultures, historical periods, and points of view—many more than we’d be able to in real life. This in turn allows us to see patterns play out both across history and within the imagination. As the saying goes, history repeats itself. The more you read, the more we’re able to see those same patterns in your daily life, predict their outcomes, and adjust our behavior accordingly.
Example: The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
The ability to experience other peoples’ points of view means voracious readers are more empathetic. Because we’ve walked virtually in other people’s shoes, book nerds have been forced to imagine ourselves in various situations—and we know we might be found wanting if something similar happened to us. This understanding of our own frailties makes us more likely to be kind to others.
Example: 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
4. The Ability to be Alone.
Solitude is a super power, especially in the crowded, digitally-linked modern age. People who can tolerate and make good use of alone time are people who have confidence and self-reliance. Reading is a way of training ourselves to value solitude instead of fearing it.
Example: Walden, by Henry David Thoreua
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5. A Sense of History.
People who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. People who devour books of any kind are bound to pick up a better sense of history than most, with the end result being that they can see patterns, big and small, and have some idea of where those patterns will end. This isn’t just about the “big” patterns of history like fascism or economic cycles, but also the “small” patterns of interpersonal relationships, tolerance of other beliefs and lifestyles, and self-care.
Example: Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond
6. The Holmes Scan.
Reading teaches us to pay attention. All it takes is to be fooled once by the secret villain in a book, or the hero in disguise, and the voracious reader vows to never be fooled again, and to catch every single detail in future stories. We inevitably bring this skill into our daily lives, and find ourselves assessing the people we meet with a head-to-toe scan straight out of a Sherlock Holmes story.
Example: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
7. No Screens Necessary.
Voracious readers are blackout-proof. While digital books and ereaders are great tools, someone who simply enjoys reading for reading’s sake is well-equipped to survive blackouts, disasters, zombie apocalypses, and long flights sandwiched in-between strangers in the middle seat. They don’t need electricity, screens, or passwords—they just need the words. (Though if they’ve got a Nook Glowlight Plus, they’ll be good for a few weeks even without charging the battery.)
Example: The Book, by Keith Houston
8. Intense Concentration.
Reading, especially Olympic-level competitive book consumption, requires—and teaches—concentration. Attention spans elongate, vocabularies improve, and the ability to appreciate subtleties beyond the superficial elements of the plot takes root. Concentration and attention span are increasingly important in a world where fewer people seem to possess them, positioning book nerds to inherit the Earth—or dominate the idiocracy.
Example: Ulysses, by James Joyce
9. Time Management.
Reading a lot of books isn’t about passing a few moments before bedtime. It takes discipline and planning to get through so many. The more books we manage to cram into a week, the better we become at managing every moment. That skill translates into careers and home lives—and maps to any resource in need of proper management.
Example: In Search of Lost Time: The Complete Masterpiece, by Marcel Proust
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Finally, bigger readers are better writers. It’s no coincidence that the cornerstone of all advice on improving writing is to read more. Voracious readers become much better writers, if only because we have a much larger source of inspiration—and writing has become even more important in the internet age, which remains reliant on text for information exchange.
Example: On Writing, by Stephen King