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  • Parisa Rose

Why I Still Read (and Write) in 2022

There is a book somewhere out there that might be responsible for my entire existence. Once upon a time in Tehran, Iran, my Dad lent a book to my Mom and that’s how their relationship started. Which book can I credit for sparking my whole life? My Dad can’t remember. It was only the first of several books they exchanged and discussed in those early days. My parents read a lot in their youth. Books were powerful. Books were dangerous. Books were what led to my parents falling in love. They connected over philosophy and politics — ideas of revolution and hope. Those very ideas led them to flee their home country, with a toddler-sized me in tow. We sought asylum in Pakistan, and sat waiting as refugees for two years, then finally gained entry into Canada. Few personal keepsakes made that journey. Least of all books.

I didn’t grow up with books. I don’t remember having a bookshelf in the home growing up. I was always curious about other people’s bookshelves when I saw them. In those days, while my parents were building a new life in a new culture as immigrants, books in English meant a language barrier and books in their mother tongue (Farsi) were not available. Our family’s relationship with books was interrupted, maybe even broken. Not to mention, starting from scratch to establish a family in a foreign land left little room for leisurely leafing through the pages of anything that wasn’t a textbook. For years, it was about survival. For years, still no bookshelf.

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t an avid reader as a child. Starting Kindergarten in Toronto, I picked up English easily and did well in reading in school. Reading was fine, but I don’t remember books always being around. Writing and drawing, however, I can’t remember ever being without. Blank pages and pencils and crayons and markers — these were constant companions. I took to journaling and drawing at a very young age and I still have notebooks filled with my preschool scrawl.

But I didn’t grow up on books; I grew up on television and movies. I consumed them. That’s how I learned the language and culture of this side of the world. I love movies with a passion and will defend their value and place in our lives to the end. I’ve written about how watching movies can be an exercise in mindfulness. I stand by all that. I think nearly anything can be done with a sense of presence, or attention to the sensory experience of what is happening in that very moment. Call it mindfulness, call it awareness, call it paying attention, call it presence — call it what you will. We can be with movies in this way, as with a piece of music, in conversation with a friend, or taking in the view from the top of a mountain. Call it being fully alive in the moment.

There is, however, something special about reading, and the nature of sitting with words, especially printed books, that lends itself particularly well to presence. Reading demands presence to fully be with the words and what they’re pointing to.

Books and reading, as I came to discover later in life, offer immersion and collaborative meaning-making in a unique way, and sometimes, even I can admit, offer expression and understanding with a deeper and more lasting resonance than any other medium.

If you love to read, it’s likely because of the magic that happens in the private moment when you’re alone with the words of the writer and something is conjured that transcends both the contents of your mind and the meaning that the author’s words carry. This is a moment of creation. Something new is born that was unforeseen by the reader and even beyond the aspiration of the writer. The act of reading, just as the act of writing, is creative.

Since I didn’t grow up with books, they aren’t nostalgic for me and I won’t defend them sentimentally (something I don’t think I could in all honesty claim about my defense of movies). Free of any rosy ideas about books and reading, I can perhaps identify their value with clear eyes — eyes that had previously been glued to the TV.

In fact, I think I may have been addicted to TV and movies. I still have relapses, and at times it’s hard to choose any other activity after dusk brings darkness and with it, sweet permission to slip into non-doing. The short days of winter and the idle time of the holidays are a particularly risky time.


Cut to — this most recent winter holiday. The news is heavy. The reports talk of a pandemic that seems to stretch on and on. My parents have divorced this year, and this Christmas, it all finally feels real. To hell with hope and romance and books that lead to falling in love. The world has turned. And it sucks. I feel the need to wrap myself up in comfort and admittedly to numb myself against the chaos. This is when I get hooked again.

Reality is too much to face, motivation is low, and will power is hard to muster. As if under a spell — maybe a mild trauma response — I mentally check out. I float toward my enormous TV. The huge black screen is draped with a colourful sarong that I cover it with during the day — a feeble barrier, meant to give me a moment’s pause, and maybe choose a more edifying activity. In a swift act of defiance, I whip it off. How dare my past self bother me with this pesky hurdle. That nerd, always leaving me reminders to be mindful. I scoff. Anyway, I’m on holiday! The screen is turned on, and lights and sounds flood the space, leaving little room for anything else as I melt into the couch and drift into mindless trance, the stupor of passive consumption. I like this.

Countless hours (was it days?) later. I am back. Did the spell wear off? Did I numb myself long enough to recover and restore? Is that just what I needed, a brief escape, to be able to face reality again? I don’t know. But I’m back, in my own body. I can feel its physical form and sense that I am here. Right here, right now. Maybe the energy of my mindfulness practice, built up over the years, has been alive in the background of my trance. Maybe it finally broke through from deep within me to help me shake off the trance, make up with reality, and make friends with my past self again. (I actually love that nerd.)

Whatever mysterious grace I can credit with this interruption, I am no longer possessed. I have been released. I have awakened. My eyes are no longer peeled to the screen. I can turn away, I can stand up. I turn off the TV, and in its place, turn on the lamp. I pick up the closest book, found on a pile of yet-to-be wrapped presents, and sit back down. Suddenly, I’m very aware of the space around my body, I sense the points of contact between my body and the couch. I notice subtle areas of tension deep in my muscles, and I let go. I relax. This feels different from melting into the couch when I was entranced by the electric screen. Now, my body feels open, softer, and alive. I pull a blanket around me, open the book, and after a big sigh, it starts to happen; like flakes in a snowglobe, the mind gradually settles. A few pages in, another sigh, deeper and slower this time, and the pleasure is unfolding. I am still, I am calm. I am fully here. I am reading.


More than any other medium, the written word, scribbled or typed by the writer, and read by the reader, represents an intimate and nearly sacred contract between the two. The writer says to the reader come with me, and I promise it’ll be worth your while. Trust me. You’ll have to pay attention. Follow my words, and together we will conjure worlds beyond the limits of language.

And so, our contract has already begun.

Every good book (or piece of writing) is a rediscovery of the magic of reading.

The book that found its way into my hands, by mere chance, when the fog of that recent trance cleared, was one such rediscovery. I reconnected with the pleasure of reading within the pages of this unlikeliest of books: Fisherman’s Summer by Roderick L. Haig-Brown. You guessed it. It’s a book about fishing.

The book was a Christmas present I had bought for someone. I had no interest in the subject — only a mild curiosity about just how dull a book about fishing might be. Yet, within the first page or two, I was transfixed. I read as much as I could, careful not to leave any signs of my stolen preview and secret enjoyment, before I had to wrap it.

Of all the things I could have been captivated by — a book about fly-fishing! I was perplexed at my own engagement. Without any interest in the subject matter, if fly-fishing had any chance to captivate my attention, I might have guessed it would be in a format that could show off the visual delights of fishing. Perhaps a documentary film with dramatic cinematography, sweeping panoramas of natural landscape, dazzling drone shots of rivers, close ups demonstrating the technique of the sport, slow motion shots of hefty trout being pulled up through the water, each splash glistening in the sunlight — suspense, drama, maybe a lens flare, all set to an emotional musical score. The glory of fly-fishing, with all its sights and sounds, a feast for the senses!

And yet, I was sitting in a dark room, under the light of a lamp, gazing at a book in my hands. I was reading words. In that moment, I was in awe of the writer, and I was very curious — what was happening here?

The writing had my attention. The author was abundantly skilled, it can’t be denied, but I had a part here too — I was continually paying attention. I was an active participant.

Reading takes effort. It takes energy — albeit a light touch, and in fact necessarily relaxed, softly focused, and steady (not unlike meditation) — to follow the thread of meaning through words and sentences, to stitch this idea to the next, to find deeper meaning still, to juggle thoughts and images in the mind, to truly understand.

Reading is creative. It’s collaborative. The writer offers words, and the reader gives their attention. Somewhere in between, in invisible space, they co-create a world that they hold up together. The writer’s work comes first — words are chosen, carefully laid down, one after the other, in a certain order, sprinkled with punctuation. The writer’s job is done. The book is complete, and waits. For a while, it is static. The words sit still within the pages. Next, it becomes dynamic, the moment the book is opened. The reader’s job is now, following the letters and markings, in the order they’re presented, taking in their meaning according to the reader’s culture, and the nuance and connotations deeply personal to the reader. As meanings and images and feelings swirl in the mind of the reader, they collide with prior knowledge, memories and experiences, and construct deeper meaning still, unique to the reader’s own life and mind, in that very moment.

Creativity, as an active energy, requires presence and attention that is sustained. Unlike with watching a video, during which you could slip into a passive trance and the show marches on, during reading, if attention strays too far from the words and away from the thread of meaning, then the world that is held as a tapestry in the imagination unravels, falls apart. If the muscle of attention has enough stamina to stay steady and follow, it activates the mind and makes scenes come alive in the imagination. In my mind, I was standing in that river. I could feel the coolness of the water and the force of its flow press up against my thighs. I could hear it. I could see the surrounding trees, with detail and texture.

And so, of course reading about fly-fishing could easily be a more vivid experience than watching a video. A video shows one possible portrayal of the triumphant moment of the catch — one for the masses. When reading about the same moment, a good writer paints the scene yet leaves room for the reader to fill in the rest. Together, they co-create a scene that is not bound by the limitations of what really happened on that day. The scene that comes alive in the mind of the reader is only limited by their imagination. The scene is not fed to the reader like a video spoons sights and sounds into the mind of the viewer. The scene that is created in the mind of the reader is flavoured by what they bring to meet the words — their personal history, their ideals of aesthetics and beauty and delight. I was standing in that river, and it was my catch. A movie played in my mind that was based on the words I read and yet also a patchwork of every river I’ve ever seen, set against a backdrop of trees that hang over the water like in paintings I’ve admired, and that slant of light from my favourite time of day. The moment was unique to me.

Of course, it is true that there are varying degrees of paying attention and engagement with the words. It is possible to be reading and be distracted by thought. While some thoughts (related memories, emotions, images) are interacting with the words and making richer meaning, others may be unrelated and tugging attention away from the present moment where reading and meaning-making is happening. The experience of reading may become diluted, and lacklustre, until at some point, we have drifted away from the act of reading altogether. We’ve all had the experience of noticing our mind has wandered off with little to no recollection of what the last paragraph said. (I can only hope that’s not happening right now.) This is no longer reading, but rather looking at books. True reading is gently active, creative, and alive.

Reading is an essentially solitary experience, and this is an important aspect and necessary in order to enjoy the full benefits. The reader is following the words at their own will, and at their own pace. Ideally, the reader has privacy, and with it, unabashed freedom to slow down, pause, lower the page, take a breath, or two, and to re-read. Each pause allows for time to reflect, to make more connections, stronger resonance, richer meaning, more robust feeling, and images more vivid that the eye could hope to see. All this, integrated in one’s own time, leads to lasting impressions, insights that stick, and learning that is remembered and can actually be of use.


Defending the benefits and joys of reading is not a unique or novel position to take. And this is not an academic study on what happens when we read — only the observations of a late-blooming reading enthusiast. Nonetheless, it feels worthwhile to state.

In the year 2022, with other media and platforms growing, sometimes it feels like reading and even writing might be falling out of fashion. And of course other formats have their own unique gifts and each have their own place. Movies will always have a sacred place in my heart. Podcasts are fantastic. The democratization and accessibility of content — video, audio, print, and digital — are things to be cherished and protected. Audio and video formats may be faster, easier, arguably more entertaining, and offer the possibility of multitasking — which our time-poor culture of hustling and insatiable consumption seems to find irresistible.

Gratefully, the proponents of books and reading are alive and well, and in good company. Writers are still writing, readers are still reading, and for very good reason.

Reading still stands tall as an unparalleled way to connect minds and tour the intimate corners of other’s inner world. Reading is the closest we may get to knowing what it’s like to be another person. The written word grants entry into the private realm of another. While all forms of art can give glimpses, reading penetrates the deepest. When we get quiet, pay attention fully, we become present and immersed in a flurry of words that closely echo the thoughts that bounce between the inner walls of another being. Reading bridges minds. (Maybe that’s why the expression goes “to read someone’s mind.”)

This peek into another’s mind — understanding how they make sense of the world from where they stand — is a deeply intimate experience. It makes us feel connected, less alone, and reminds us of the universality of the sorrows and joys of being human, no matter how different the trajectories of our lives may appear on the outside. We learn (or we recall) that while we seem to dwell in separate bodies, we are really one and the same. We all want the same things — to feel safe, to belong, to be free from the pain that comes with the illusory yet persistent sense of separateness — to feel whole.

Reading multiplies our life experiences, illuminates insight, and amplifies our wisdom — it enriches our life.

The reader opens the page, the writer leans in and says here, hold this — this is how I feel, this is how I see it. Reading goes so much further than merely transmitting information, or even telling a story. It opens a portal to a new world — a world bigger than what the writer’s words could point to on their own, and bigger than what the reader’s mind could behold by itself — a creative interplay that can only take place with some degree of mindful presence. If we are fully present with the words and an attentive witness to the emerging meanings, we allow the full bloom of creation. The stories and insights, the messages and meanings, and the whispers of ineffable truths, touch something deep within us, beyond words and language and mind. They become part of us, and they change us.

This is why I write. This is why we still read.

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