Home > Blog > Read to Save a Life

Read to Save a Life

Posted by Priscilla on September 10, 2013

DSC_0388.jpgYet again.

Yesterday, a three-year-old girl died in Philadelphia because her parents had starved her. She weighed eleven pounds.

I’m going way out on the proverbial limb here, but I believe two things: 1) Her parents did not read to her 2) If they had read to her, she would be alive today.

Proof? I have none.

I have, instead, a rock solid appreciation for the power of WORD in our lives. The scriptures say that the entire universe was created by “the word of his power.” Just think what the word could have done for a tiny, powerless girl.


Plenty of folk hate to read. Plenty more think reading is a waste of time. Why read when you can do?

Reading, or the act of pronouncing (silently or aloud) words that have meaning and allowing that meaning to interact with prior thoughts and prior experience, can save lives. Here’s why: whether you are three or fifty-three,

  1. Reading gives you knowledge.
    • Knowledge of the world around you (Magic School Bus series)
    • Knowledge of other people (any newspaper)
    • Knowledge of yourself (The Velveteen Rabbit, Grapes of Wrath, the Bible)
  1. Reading gives you encouragement
    • Encouragement to try new things (Joy of Cooking, DIY for Dummies)
    • Encouragement to see life in a different way (any article about people’s lives in a different country or culture.
    • Encouragement to think new thoughts (The Power of Habit, The Prodigal God)

3. Reading gives you wisdom and insight

    • Wisdom to see and evaluate values (Ethan Frome, your friend’s Facebook posting)
    • Insight into the human condition (The Power and the Glory, Up a Road Slowly)

4. Reading gives you compassion

    • Compassion toward yourself as you realize that you are not so different from others; as you realize that you are very different and so will carve out values that honor who you are.
    • Compassion toward others. Because you can honor your unique qualities, you can honor the differences in other people whether  they are intimate with you or live on the opposite side of the world.

How does reading do this?

Reading, unlike listening, imprints onto the brain meanings and values. From neurological imprints come the thoughts of our conscious mind, which are then evaluated by our gut to see if they agree or disagree with thoughts and values we have held before. Once we accept them, these thoughts join our deep subconscious to add to our future filter.  For the reader, then, the choice of what to read becomes very important. If we add lies to our subconscious, our actions reflect darkness. If we add truth, our actions reflect light.

Reading allows us to live vicariously, and this is a tremendous benefit. In books, we see a simplified version of life. Heroes and villains are often presented in black and white. Heroes triumph and villains go down. Life is not usually so neat, but we need the stark justice of fiction to help us make sense of life, to feel hope, to believe that life has meaning.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” 
                                                          ― George R.R. MartinA Dance With Dragons

When we read about others’ lives, we are able to act out our own struggles and face our own demons in safety. We are able to see results of decisions ahead of time. Reading helps us choose our path.

What does this mean for the writer?

Writers, lives are in your hands. For this reason,

  • Do careful research
  • Make thoughtful arguments. No screeds allowed. No angry postings based on fear and conjecture.
  • Be open to people, to views, and to lives that differ from your own.
  • Be real. Avoid flat characters. Dismiss perfect characters.  Eschew easy answers and deus ex machina endings, yes, but make sure to shun hopelessness and despair as well.
  • Persevere in your incredible task.

“What reading does, ultimately, is keep alive the dangerous and exhilarating idea that a life is not a sequence of lived moments, but a destiny...the time of reading, the time defined by the author's language resonating in the self, is not the world's time, but the soul's. The energies that otherwise tend to stream outward through a thousand channels of distraction are marshaled by the cadences of the prose; they are brought into focus by the fact that it is an ulterior, and entirely new, world that the reader has entered. The free-floating self--the self we diffusely commune with while driving or walking or puttering in the kitchen--is enlisted in the work of bringing the narrative to life. In the process, we are able to shake off the habitual burden of insufficient meaning and flex our deeper natures.” 
     ― Sven BirkertsThe Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Great value resides in handling word aright, for by this means, you provide the chance for little girls to be saved.

What do you think?


P.S. Last week I wrote about rejection and rejections. Here is a link to a helpful article on how (and how NOT) to handle rejections: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/09/rejection-101-what-authors-should-never.html  (For writers and artists of all kinds).


Posted by Erin Unger on
You're right about the responsibility a writer takes on. It's amazing how our area of influence can be affected by what we write. As you said, we must always consider this. Thanks
Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.