23 August 2010

Prophylactic Reading

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?

Language skills

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!


Helen Ginger said...

Great post. So many benefits to reading. I hope it's being emphasized in school as much as it used to be in the dark ages when I was a child (we read by firelight in the cave). When things are bad for a child in their real life, s/he can go into another world in a book. Often they can learn how to handle things in their real life. All that on top of the joy of a good story.


Natasha said...

@ Helen - my older one is in the second grade, and in his school they lay a lot of emphasis on reading. Perhaps there is still hope for the next generations,

Jan Morrison said...

As a member of the choir I want to pass on a trick my parents used to get us kids to all be the reading fanatics we are - if you had a book in hand you would be left undisturbed for those annoying little chores parents are always thinking of. We still had to do the main ones of course but not the 'would you go up and fetch my knitting' ones. Worked a treat!
Jan Morrison

Hart Johnson said...

In elementary school, there was a huge emphasis on reading at my kids' school. I don't know how universal it is, but both are strong readers. Still, one chooses it far more voluntarily than the other (though I think middle school is a time with less of it)

Jan--I love that trick, but I have my doubts as to whether my husband can be trained. When he wants help with something, he wants it NOW.

LTM said...

Maybe THAT'S the answer to my blog question... Reading is very much pushed in the elementary grades ("Readers are Leaders!") but I think the push might drop off in HS...

Actually, I had to read so many assigned books in HS, it left little time for pleasure reading. :o| But I LOVE to read today! :o)

Great post~

ViolaNut said...

I have been an absolute bookfiend since I was not quite 3, and have had major depressive issues for nearly 20 years. Soooo not great support for the hypothesis, but I'd be willing to consider that it might have been even worse without the books...

M.J. Nicholls said...

Hurray! I have a thin brain and am twice as happy. Books rock.

Hart Johnson said...

Leigh-I had very little time for unassigned stuff in high school and college, too. I've never been super speedy, so that is just all the time there was. Thank you!

Leanne--I would go with that... think how much worse it MIGHT have been... plus, I know you've had other health issues (pain, in particular) and almost NOBODY who lives with pain escapes depression.

Mark-*giggles* Not thin... muscular...

ViolaNut said...

Funny you should mention the pain, just wait till you see Wednesday's post, most of which was spouted in the throes of the latest flare and later related to me by my slightly stunned roommates... oops.

Natasha said...

@ Leanne - how you manage to sound cheerful most of the time (except when you are being deliberately not) never ceases to amaze me.

@ Mark - thin brain- that's a good one. As opposed to not being a fat head, I presume.

Sue said...

Thanks for the post and link. I've never understood why in secondary school here, so many of the set books are so darn depressing. They rarely have examples of how to creatively tackle a difficult situation - they seem to wallow in the mire.

Studying miserable books, writing essays on them, followed by exams is so hard for a teenager who already has problems. It's especially frustrating when there's really great literature for them to ENJOY and immerse themselves in rather than dread and avoid.

I love reading, and listen to talking books on the commute to work. Unfortunately my brain seems to be teflon coated these days.