Read. Literature. Contemporary stories from thoughtful writers. Read memoirs. New essays and The Essays of E. B. White [I recommend “Death of a Pig.”]. Pulitzer Prize winners like Elizabeth Strout. Read Facebook posts by Anne Lamott and Humans of New York. The Bible. Anything Brene Brown writes. Jane Austen. Reread the stories you loved as a child: The Velvet Room, Treasure Island, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys…Harry Potter…Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. By now, you have books and stories and authors in your head you think I’ve missed. 🙂
Your view of humanity will expand. Your language and vocabulary will expand. Your compassion will expand. Your relationships will improve (there are studies that show readers are better lovers, and I mean, heart lovers.) You know what else will improve? With no college or masters degree or Ph.D., your writing will soar in leaps and bounds. I’ve seen evidence of it in my own house, my own classroom, my tutoring. I’m not sure the average high school is turning out a mass of great writers. That’s probably a gift when it happens (and I’m talking about average, standardized test-laden curriculum). Some arrive at college good writers, yes. And, I’m thankful for their sake; it takes a lot of the pain and struggle out of the adjustment. However, I’ll bet many of those are the children who couldn’t get their noses out of a book. They have been captured and held fast by Story. Every child is. Don’t stop reading to your children until they beg you to stop (and you know that they will continue on their own.)
It’s true, I have a Humanities degree, and then, a Fine Arts degree in writing, so I believe there’s value in pondering the world, nature, and the people around us. All of the gaps in my time are filled with wondering and resolving and being inspired to grow. I happen to believe that the art of a philosophical “argument” enhances our society, deepens our relationships, and keeps the volume level civil around the dinner table, across bar stools, in schools and places of worship, and in cyberland. The smartest, most emotionally agile people I know are readers—I say readers, not writers, because even though the smartie pants in my life are writers with advanced degrees, I believe reading smooths out the educational differences between us.
It’s not too late to start reading. Most of us who “do” social media spend a lot of time reading…and, not all of what we’re reading on these platforms is good, thoughtful, insightful, imaginative, thrilling, or beautiful writing. Pull a well-loved book off the shelf today and read like a child. Read for a better world.