The author Neil Gaiman gave a lecture in London on why reading is fundamentally important for our species. He argues that reading, libraries and imagination are essential elements to a successful future.
Gaiman cites an interesting study done by United States prisons trying to forecast the number of cells required several years down the road. Firstly, this is something I’ve never thought about, but the incarcerated population fluctuates in relation to cultural shifts, governmental law changes, and a million other factors. This is tricky business. However one of the best predictors was based on the literacy rate – basically what they found was a very strong correlation between the percentage of children who had difficulties reading at ages 11 and 12 and the number of jail cells required. Well read kids have a much less likely chance of ending up in jail.
Another point Neil made was the natural curiosity that reading instills. By engulfing children in fictional tales, they are driven to turn the page in order to find out what happens. It teaches them that reading and the intake of information can be pleasurable.
It also helps to teach empathy, which is probably strongly related to the prison cell correlation. Reading about characters and their tribulations allows young people to view things from another’s perspective – they learn to identify with other’s tragedies and triumphs.
As an avid reader, I strongly identified with this edited version of his lecture found here on The Guardian, and thought it would be worth sharing. Read on, and stay out of prison.