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I Read, Therefore I am
[ Issue 141 Page 7 ] Monday, November 09, 2015, 07:54:51 Phan Phuong Thao International Reporter thaopahn93@kaist.ac.kr

When was the last time you read a book, and did not want it to end? It saddens me that this simple question is often met by the same disappointing response: “I can’t remember.” You may think that as a college student I have no difficulty surrounding myself with avid readers, but so far, this has not been my experience. In fact, I find myself among the few who keeps novels by the bed and enjoy having an audiobook as a walking companion.

The consensus among my peers seems to be that after pouring over five different textbooks, each containing countless pages with tiny texts and massive equations, it is impossible to find the time or energy to appreciate another book, regardless of its content or quality. While this is definitely not an exaggeration, it is a hackneyed excuse.

The truth is we are becoming lazier, not just physically, but also mentally, spiritually, and intellectually. While the development of technology has enabled humankind to achieve the unthinkable, it has also deprived us of the motivation to think, to be curious and creative. We now prefer spending our leisure time scrolling down Facebook feeds, filling our minds with trivial bits of information that would sooner or later be forgotten. Though I am no less guilty of this than anyone, the part of me that still loves reading gives me enough justification to defend reading as one of the most important things we can do as human beings and that the crucial values and unique fulfillment it entails are among the few sustainable qualities that could help us define ourselves in this universe. Why?

Because if you have read Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, you will be able to easily appreciate just how much books teach you about yourself. Whether you read the novel when you were still a kid, or much later during your teenage years, you can still see yourself in Alice and acknowledge how the world changes through her looking glass. Books like Alice In Wonderland make self-criticism a much less demeaning process, because letting go of your ego, and admitting and forgiving your mistakes is always easier when you are allowed to play the role of someone else.

Reading also gives context and meaning to our existence and its consequences. Our defeats and triumphs as an individual or as a race would mean little if anything at all without the understanding of the whens, whys, and hows. For years I have been a great admirer of Stephen Hawking, not necessarily because I thoroughly understood his theories on black holes and Hawking radiation, but rather because I pay my utmost respect to his unwavering devotion to science. His international bestseller on modern cosmology, A Brief History of Time still influences me to this day: as I study to become a scientist and learn about the world, I continue to wonder how the things I discover can be connected to a potential “theory of everything”.

Finally, and most importantly, it is because reading will give you a sense of endless possibility. If my most recent favorite novel Paper Town by John Green taught me anything, it is that the moment we allow our imagination and hope to run free, we can make any “paper destination” come to life and become part of our actual physical world. John calls this cartography, “[It's, you know,] sailing upon some land, and thinking, ‘I think I'll draw that bit of land,’ and then wondering, ‘Maybe there's some more land to draw.’” And because we tend to explore only the places that exist on our map of the world, wouldn’t it be great if we could expand the sketch, adding on the places, the things, and the people we like just because we know that we can? I would like to imagine that you, the reader, agrees.

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