In an argument to actively promote the value of reading and the importance of publishers to “concentrate on the message, not agonise over the medium” – the never ending quibbling that seems to go on about real books versus eBooks – Gail Rebuck, in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald
considers the question: “Why bother read”
….. for the first time in the 500 years since Johannes Gutenberg democratised reading, many among our educated classes are also asking why, in a world of accelerating technology, shrinking free time and diminishing attention spans, should they invest precious hours sinking into a good book?”
Citing the research of psychologists from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri
who used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories, they state that their research is “shedding light on what it means to “get lost” in a good book” Quoting Rebuck, these researchers found that:
….. readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways.
Rebuck goes on to say
The discovery that our brains are physically changed by the experience of reading is something many of us will understand instinctively, as we think back to the way an extraordinary book had a transformative effect on the way we view the world. This transformation takes place only when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the emotional and mental chatter of the real world.”
I agree totally with Rebuck’s conclusion that books like technology
….. open up emotional, imaginative and historical landscapes that equal and extend the corridors of the web. They can help create and reinforce our sense of self.”
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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten into conversation with friends who are maths and science buffs or friends who are heavily involved in buinsess who proclaim loud and clear that they have no time to read novels. Fiction they say is a waste of time. If time is to be spent reading, they say, it will be magazine or newspaper articles that have facts and figures relevant to their field or reports, findings or other factual based articles that feed into their job. Spending hours wading through a novel is not for them.
So when I came across an article: The business case for reading novels on Bloomberg, I was really pleased to read Anne Kreamer‘s comments about data collected by academic researchers “indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness”. In other words, reading provides the reader with opportunities to consider the feelings and emotions of characters they are reading about and to then transfer this understanding into their everyday business interactions. And as Kreamers says, ” ….. to understand others’ points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise.” She concludes:
It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience.”
It is without a doubt that reading gives us so much more than a good story, an exposure to a world that we may not otherwise explore. Giving us an insight into the thoughts and emotions of others is just another response to the question: Why read?
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There’s nothing more powerful than hearing the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature tell kids straight:
“Reading is not optional!”
Taking up this preeminent position in the US on January 10th, noted YA author, Walter Dean Myers, is intent on ensuring that every child embraces reading. Raised by foster parents in Harlem in the 40′s, Myers dropped out of high school at 17 to join the army. Being teased as a youngster, Myers recollects taking a paper bag to the library so as to hide what he was bringing home. Admitting to leading with his fits during school days, he struggled academically, but recollects with fondness the one teacher who told him he was good at writing. And write he did. Walter Dean Myers, the recipient of numerous awards: two Newbery Honours, three National Book Award finalists, winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and five Coretta Scott King Awards writes over a range of genres including picture books, lyric poetry, fantasy, biography, and realistic fiction.
In a recent interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Myers said:
“We all know we should eat right and we should exercise, but reading is treated as if it’s this wonderful adjunct. ‘Reading takes you to faraway places,’ ” Myers said. “We’re still thinking in terms of enticing kids to read with a sports book or a book about war. We’re suggesting that they’re missing something if they don’t read but, actually, we’re condemning kids to a lesser life. If you had a sick patient, you would not try to entice them to take their medicine. You would tell them, ‘Take this or you’re going to die.’ We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”
As the National Year of Reading unfolds in Australia throughout 2012, it will be interesting to listen to the words of our Reading Ambassadors.
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Over the long summer break, I caught up with some of the many articles in the evergrowing bundle that constantly accumulates around me.
After reading The Rumpus blog post: The urgent matter of books, a blog by Lidia Yuknavitch, I felt that the time was ripe for me to start on what I hope will be the first in a series of posts titled “Why read?”
Yuknavitch pulls no punches when writing about the value of reading. The imagery created is so very nice. Writing about the value of books, she states:
I read books.
You heard me. Those thingees with covers and pages that you hold in your hands? Smell like paper and trees? Portable brain defibrillators?
I’m not talking about college assigned books. I’m talking about the books that I found at that time. The books that spoke to me and maybe only me. The books that kept me from sleeping at night so I could read them. The books that haunted me while I walked around during the daytime. And I’m here to tell you I learned more about war, politics, and social and individual identity from reading books than any class I took, any nightly news, and fat-mouthed politician.
Yuknavitch’s words fit neatly with my own philosophy which I expound on this blog:
Books provide us with paths to worlds and realities we are unable to access in any other way. Books about war and politics which Yuknavitch talks about in this post comprise only a tiny fraction of the reading material that abounds. Proffer books on a wide range of topics to students to ensure that they develop an appetite to consume, devour and digest books and you’ll make a lasting impact on their lives, because, as Yuknavitch suggests, books have the power to stir a desire within us to change our lives.
Insitlling a love of literature and an insatiable desire to read more and more should be just one of the aims of this, The National Year of Reading!
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