By Carl Blomberg, Sweden
When was the last time you read a book? For a lot of people that seemingly simple question may turn into a really difficult one; simply because they cannot remember the last time they enjoyed a good piece of writing. Although the perks and pleasures of reading are large and great, humans these days tend to abandon books in favor of alternative amusements, such as streaming movies and TV shows. Modern devices allow people to have instant access to entertainment – we do not want to spend hours finishing a book, we want to stream a thrilling movie lasting just one and a half hours. It allows people to have instant access to knowledge – we do not want to search a lexicon when we can just find the translation or definition of a word online instantly. The traditional book is endangered, which is unfortunate, because, in fact, books have changed and continue to change the world, as few things else.
There is no precise definition of what makes a book. Some might describe it as something you can read, while others might define it as pieces of paper put together. Googling the simple question ‘’what is a book?’’, you get various answers. Even though the different definitions may vary a little, they all share a few main keystones; for something to be called a book should have a written or painted work, recorded on pages sewn, glued or fixed together along one side. In the 15th century Johannes Gutenberg, a German craftsman and innovator, invented the printing press. This innovation was revolutionizing because it helped spread information beyond societies and borders; it enabled new ways of learning which in turn improved literacy; and last but not least, it allowed written work to be published and read not only by the ruling elite, but by everyone. Point blank: the printing press enabled books.
More than five hundred years have passed since the printing press was first used. Throughout these years, decades and centuries, there are multiple examples of authors and books that have impacted the world. A prominent work is the Bible, which in fact was among the first books ever printed using Gutenberg’s invention. The Bible has impacted societies all over the world; for instance, it has influenced and helped form mores, laws, cultures and much more. Also, it has brought people together as well as given them wisdom and knowledge in a way few other works have been able to.
An additional example of an influential and highly significant book is author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). This novel was written and published in a time where the United States, which is where the plot takes place, was tainted by slavery and racism. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Beecher Stowe addresses these topics as she illustrates the past U.S. through a slave’s perspective. The novel came to be the best-selling book of the 19th century, and it was a precipitating factor for the start of the Civil War and the end of slavery in America.
Apart from having an impact on societies and the world in general, books are also influential and important for people on a personal level. In fact, scientific studies show that reading books have a profound significance on our ability to empathize, our level of creativity, and how well we are able to learn, retain and use information. In one of The Guardian’s most-read articles from 2014, science journalist and author, Dan Hurley, discusses the relationship between intelligence and reading in his feature article ‘’Can reading make you smarter?’’. Hurley talks about his own development as a child, from being called a ‘’slow learner’’ who could not read the word ‘’the’’ at the age of eight, to getting straight As just three years later after discovering the greatness of reading Super-Man and other comics. Furthermore, Hurley refers to various scientists and their studies that can help explain his impressive progress. Among other things, he also talks about three categories of intelligence, with one being fluid intelligence, the type of intelligence that enable us to solve problems and learn new things using knowledge gained in the past. Hurley not only describes how reading increases our fluid intelligence, but also how fluid intelligence improves our critical reading and reading comprehension. Consequently, they go hand in hand and together to create a favorable spiral.
In conclusion, when you immerse yourself in a book, you also immerse yourself into new worlds. You are given the opportunity to discover different stories of life, as well as get to know new characters, their emotions and thoughts. Reading books gives you the key to doors, behind which there are not only enjoyment and delight, but also knowledge and inspiration. As time passes by, the world changes, and so do people. How we live and choose to amuse ourselves today differs from how people chose to amuse themselves fifty years ago, the same way people fifty years from now likely will choose to entertain themselves differently. Although the traditional book may have lost its position as a stand-out and forefront source of amusement, it still influences and impacts us. What role books will play in the future is hard to tell, but from a historical point of view, considering the impact they have had throughout time, it is difficult to envisage a world without books. With technology and digitization comes new possibilities, and lately the use of reading devices and audio books have increased rapidly. Thus, maybe our ways of consuming books will change, but the new worlds and the imaginary doors will remain – ready for us to be immersed in.