Is it really that simple, you do something and then there is an immediate benefit to show for it?
When I was in my early 30’s I went through a phase of reading a lot of Sci-Fi (I had always enjoyed reading that genre, but this was a particularly intense period). I ended up with about 350 paperbacks. I had a thing about series of books too, something which transcends genres, I’m a sucker for getting a set of books and the consistency it gives the bookshelf – but that’s another story.
I know roughly how many I had, because at some point I stopped reading Sci-Fi and boxed them all up and sold them to friend. Now I’m being asked, what have I got to show for reading all those books? What benefit did it give me? How come I can’t tell a story?
I like to think that somehow they have benefited me, in my language, my knowledge, my ways of thinking. I tried to argue that Sci-Fi encourages thought outside of normal conventions, it’s the fantasy that pushes our understanding of reality, and allows us to look at reality in new ways. Sure, it’s escapism and you can go too far down that road (I was given the example of Japanese who become obsessed with Manga). But I think there are intangible benefits to reading something which doesn’t just reflect reality, but plays with it. Without question, I think there are intangible benefits to reading.
And intangible is a good word, used a lot here in China to describe cultural heritage which can’t be saved as objects. Like theatre performances, music, temporary things, ephemeral: something which can define art in itself. I think I make use of this knowledge, this experience of reading, every day, because it’s what makes me who I am. There’s no point asking me to define it, it’s right there in front of you.