At the risk of making her blush, I need to give credit to Helen Ginger for inspiring this topic with A Call For Young People to Read. You see, last week she posted this provocative link about READING and BRAIN FUNCTION. Specifically, the inverse relationship between reading and depression. Now if you don't follow Helen, you should. I'm not sure if she just reads all day every day or if she's mastered the search engines, but anything important that is going on in the world of publishing, any new resources for writing, and in this case new news about reading... Helen spots it and brings you the info, so all YOU have to do is follow her. That said... she may have inspired my direction today, but any Bizarro World Misattributing should be credited to yours truly.
So what can reading do for YOU?
The brain, strange as it may seem, is a MUSCLE. To keep our muscles from getting fat—to keep them in PRIME condition, we need to WORK them, yes? We've probably all heard the research on Alzheimer's being held at bay with daily cross-words, yes? This thought is along those lines. So what does reading actually EXERCISE in the brain?
Well duh. Language is required to read. But more subtly... people who read have broader vocabularies because they are more regularly exposed to new words (or rarely used words)--we learn this in elementary school—figuring out what words we haven't seen mean by their context... you see a word a few times this way and suddenly it is part of your vocabulary. There is also the variation in cadence, the different ways a thing can be said... the mind stretching from the unexpected.
Reading requires a level of concentration to follow the story through... some books require more than others, but even the simplest tales require you to attend to them. Oh, I know... I am the girl who walks and reads... but walking just doesn't require that much attention.
Hey... THIS was on Oprah! You KNOW anything presented on Oprah is true! But a book requires you to remember what has happened as you follow the story through. It also prompts other memories and pulls them in for you to incorporate other things you know—giving each person a unique, rich experience. Books can provide information, too—give you information about any topic at all, and greater understanding makes things easier to remember.
Unlike television or movies, which provide us with visual, audio, and dramatic presentation of the story, a book provides a portion and requires the reader to provide the rest. It forces us to visualize characters and events ourselves... imagine the tonal quality. We need to draw on our our imaginations to make up the gap between what the author provides and what the story needs. It is an interactive activity.
But here is the Biggie... the one related to Helen's post...
This is totally groovy and was not something I'd ever heard before, but it makes some sense, intuitively. People with a singular focus are much more dependent on that single life domain for their happiness, and when that thing goes WRONG, they have nothing to fall back on. They are less resilient. READERS have an escape. There is a ready made 'somewhere else to go'--a way to get away. No matter how horrible the peers are, or how stressful the job, or how irritating the spouse and childings... the reading can take you away. Having an escape can be a powerful protection from all those things that can bring us down.
So I know I am preaching to the choir here, but get out there and READ!!!! It's good for your BRAIN!