Reading critically fosters storytelling skills

By Thaddeus Chatto

Today’s generation is so full of technology that it can be easy to forget the joy of getting cozy with a good book.

A recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll asked 1,000 U.S. adults about their reading habits, and found that 28 percent of respondents did not read a book at all in the past year.

That’s disheartening because reading is not only a way to pass the time, but it is also a way to develop important critical reading and storytelling skills.

To non-critical readers, the text in a book or article is nothing more than facts.

Facts are good. But, you can always go beyond the facts and take even more from a reading.

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    Critical readers recognize not only what a book says, but also how that book portrays the subject matter. They go a step beyond just the facts while noticing the choice of content and language of the author.  

    As a communication major, one thing I have heard from several instructors every year is that humans are story tellers; it’s a way for us to communicate. And if we can’t think critically about a text — if we can’t feel it with our emotions — then how can we expect to explain it to others? 

    Reading critically helps us communicate with other humans by improving the way we tell stories.

    We tell stories through speech, dance, movies, television, theater, art and music. Before the Internet, television and radio, we had books. And, before books, we had scrolls with written text. 

    The point is that some form of written text has been around since the beginning days of human civilization.

    The ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics to tell stories of the Gods of their religion. They were forever written within temple halls and on tombs, and archaeologists have been able to use these hieroglyphics to decipher and learn more about cultures and societies that are no longer prevalent, or are completely extinct. 

    Through hieroglyphics, the Egyptians were able to tell their stories. Through books, the Greeks and Romans were able to tell of their ways of life.

    But to tell a good story, one must also be able to make you feel as though you’re in it. Make you feel it.

    In that sense, critical reading is also a way of knowing what it is like to be someone else. It allows you to become more empathic toward another culture or person. 

    After reading “The Great Gatsby,” I understood how Gatsby felt staring into the night at the green light, wondering if that happiness that he longed for could ever be achieved.

    I understood his loneliness because F. Scott Fitzgerald made that green light so vivid, but also so mysterious.

    Another great example comes from the Harry Potter series.

    J.K. Rowling wrote an instant classic when she first created “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” 

    We all know the tale or at least have heard of it. Reading Harry’s journey from a neglected 11-year-old orphan to the chosen one was an exciting adventure that I can relive again and again.

    I felt like reading this book was like having a conversation with J.K. Rowling herself. She was telling a tale about a boy named Harry Potter that contained lessons of friendship, what it means to be different and the ultimate sacrifice for love.

    After reading “Harry Potter”, I understand now that muggles and wizards aren’t so different from each other. They deal with the same emotional conflicts such as love, jealously and the loss of a loved one.

    I could feel Harry’s pain as he was feeling it. Critical reading allowed me to feel empathic toward Harry, and truly understand the gravity of his situation. 

    I was put into his shoes and seeing the world through his eyes.

    John Green, author of “The Fault in Our Stars” and professional Youtube star, is a huge advocate of critical reading. He is largely the inspiration of this column, and he provides his input on why we should read critically.

    He says reading critically will help you have a fuller understanding of lives other than your own, help you be more empathetic and finally can give you the linguistic tools to share your own story with more precision.

    Read critically and tell your story. Make others feel your story. The world is ready to hear it.

    Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thaddingham.