Before I set sail to the real world, books were my first adventure. I was a kid who never ventured to play in the streets and slept with her books as pillows. Now, as a 26-year-old, I never imagined I would be someone who might live a day eating three meals in three different places of distinctly different dialects.
I owe this to my dream of being able to say one day that I am living life to the fullest. The Mad Hatter had one word to perfectly describe this: “muchness.” And in chasing this muchness, I find myself aboard a bus travelling the whole expanse of North Mindanao to the south.
But in between figuring out how to properly “adult” and eventually getting the hang of doing it, I have learned that the muchness of life involves, at the very least, happiness, and at most, meaning.
But how does one find meaning? When confronted with this question, I remember my younger self would immediately turn to reading.
Picture this: small kid, big back pack, a ton of books. If lunch was allowed inside the library, then I gladly spent the entire lunch period there. I devoured books and I was comfortable hanging out with them if there were no humans available. In fact, I preferred books over humans, due to various reasons, which include books not being able to beg for a share of my chocolate.
Fast forward to a more mature version of myself, it is all about going forth. Setting sail. Talking to people. Experiencing new things. Through time, I learned that humans are also cool, because, for one, they talk back.
Things changed when I stumbled upon my quarter-life crisis (this was after four years of being a corporate team player). I realized I needed to find things that genuinely moved me, even if it meant I had to leave my comfortable routine.
At crossroads and not knowing what to do, I turned back to things that were utterly familiar, which, of course, included books. Perhaps, voraciously reading as a kid was a blessing. It lent me training wheels for mindfulness and character and soon, I was slowly trudging through life again, wiser and more determined than ever.
So, channeling the fad, here are top five reasons why reading as a kid made a big difference in my adult life.
(Alternative title: Why It Became Easier For Me To Move On After My First Heartbreak. Or, How I Was Able to Keep My Emo In Control. Or even, How I Was Able To Live In A Happy Relationship With A Grammar Nazi. I’m sure you can relate.)
1. Books helped me interact meaningfully with other people.
As far as MBTI personality types go, I am an INFJ. Undeniably introvert. I’d rather speak in public and on stage rather than spend an hour trying to maneuver conversations with strangers.
Reading has expanded the way I understood different personalities. Through books, I experienced the minds of altruistic people, leaders, jerks, rich and poor, young and old. Books gave me an idea that there is more to a serious face, a fidgety stance, or a coy smile. It showed me that somewhere in all of us is a relatable human emotion.
This realization, together with my real-life human encounters, encouraged me to become less awkward and trust that almost every person seeks for what is best. And that certainly, no one bites at first hello.
2. Books helped me magnify an experience, or cope with it.
Love is one of the most explored topics in literature and as it goes, I have already read my share of love stories way before I even experienced my first love.
Now the question we all ask, “Is it really like this?” Or are writers just overly-dramatic hopeless romantics that manufacture beauty with their words?
But like what they say, all of art is inspired by something, and so when I did fall in love for the first time, I was like, damn! All those love stories are true! And with my first heartbreak? Pablo Neruda’s “Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest Lines).”
“All love stories are the same.”—Paulo Coelho, By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept
It was as if every emotion I have felt and ever will feel, someone somewhere has already penned down with exact precision. For how can someone describe the serenity in watching the movement of clouds? Depict life just by talking about the green blades of grass, or the nostalgia of a distant memory by describing petrichor?
Reading books is like coursing through life with a magnifying glass or a warm blanket. It is like authors opening a “third eye” and suddenly we, the readers, become more sensitive with the smallest detail of our mundane life.
Discovering words and stories that align with my own experiences allows me to feel deeper. To celebrate life more. And be comforted that what I feel is not so weird. After all, it was already conceived in the mind of someone who fortunately had the right skills to birth it onto a page.
3. Books provided the words I much needed, when I ran out of ideas on my own.
How often have you quoted a book to comfort someone, or to prove a point? (As you can see, I have done this.)
Books are like my extended wisdom. Or extended humor. Try quoting lines from Bob Ong and you’d get both. There are times when my mind is overflowing with thoughts but nothing concrete comes out. Or I would be in a situation where emotions are hard to define. Sometimes, I would find salvation in a few lines. It is like being redeemed from internal chaos to clarity.
4. Re-reading a book is sweet. Especially if you have just earned an experience you can already relate with it.
There are a few books I re-read at least once a year because like wine, books get better through time. It is such a nice feeling to find new meanings in an all-too-familiar lines. It is a sign of maturing and moving on to a better understanding of things.
For instance, there is an “Aha! moment” when it finally made sense why the main character had to die in the end. Or how a decision that was hard to comprehend in the course of the story turned out to be the same decision I made when I was called to the same situation in real life.
There is no single manual to being an adult but books can at least give a heads-up on what can happen. And when eventually it does, then it’s nice to re-live the experience again, more profoundly this time.
5. Reading books helped me communicate better.
Reading a lot of books is like hardwiring your brain to a language.
When I am not so sure with my grammar, I just read the sentence again. If the words don’t sit comfortably on my tongue, then most probably there is a wrong grammar or a fragmented idea somewhere.
Beyond form and semantics, I also found that reading helped me organize my thoughts and relay it better. Books gave me good examples on how ideas can be effectively expressed in written form, and so reading has also encouraged me to learn how to write. And if you live in a world of emails, one-pagers, or even witty posts, then a good set of communication skills is more than survival. It is to flourish.
If you’re a reader, keep on reading. If you haven’t yet, then start now. If you have kids, make them start now as well. I promise you that reading will help take you somewhere in life, as it does with me. So go, set your sail to the world. Allow books to keep you mindful, letting your inner child that seeks wonder unyielding. ☁