On the Significance of Reading

Reading StatsIn case you hadn’t heard, The Word Nerds each read at least 100 books in 2013.  It’s something that we are proud of, and celebrated the passing in our own way. Part of my celebration included posting on Facebook and declaring that there should be some sort of award.

I haven’t changed my mind – and I think that the award should come from the White House just like the Fitness Awards do.  As the graphic clearly shows, we are a nation that doesn’t read.

And that’s sad.

Of course, there are many forms of entertainment competing for our attention  and it’s not all television; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, movies, instant video and video games are a few that prevent reading in our house.  I prefer reading, but find that a whole night can be spent bouncing between Facebook and Twitter, making me wonder what I accomplished, if anything.

There are studies about the relationship between brain activity and reading.  One study conducted at Stanford. This one intrigues me because it specifically looks at the level of distractions in our lives.

The experiment focuses on literary attention, or more specifically, the cognitive dynamics of the different kinds of focus we bring to reading. This experiment grew out of Phillips’ ongoing research about Enlightenment writers who were concerned about issues of attention span, or what they called “wandering attention.”

Phillips, who received her PhD in English literature at Stanford in 2010, is now an assistant professor of English at Michigan State University. She said one of the primary goals of the research is to investigate the value of studying literature. Beyond producing good writers and thinkers, she is interested in “how this training engages the brain.”

Pioneering in a number of respects, her research is “one of the first fMRI experiments to study how our brains respond to literature,” Phillips said, as well as the first to consider “how cognition is shaped not just by what we read, but how we read it.”

Most of the reading I do (now) is the lightweight, for entertainment kind of reading.  Not for exams.  Depending on the final results of the study, I may not be improving my brain as I’d like to believe.  Most readers agree with the graphic and lament the fact that people stop reading once they are out of school and it’s no longer a requirement.  I find it hard to watch TV because I don’t find it stimulating.  I’m pretty active when I watch, either with a craft project or housework.  Or Facebook and Twitter.

I really don’t need the studies to be convinced that reading is transformative to my brain.  The reality for me is that when I read, I fall into the book.  The characters, places, and story line are something I experience as if I were living it myself.  I joke regularly that my husband is lucky that certain characters remain solidly in the fictional world and don’t creep out from their covers.  I do read books that will help me with my career or expand my knowledge in a given field, but it’s a faction of my total reading.  It still counts in my mind.  I’m still learning new things, fun facts and impressive ways to eliminate problems.

In general, people don’t read enough — serious or otherwise.  And passing 100 books a year is a reason to celebrate, but it also shouldn’t be the rarity that causes people to be impressed.  Reading should be a life-long activity.

Here’s to the next 100 books.  And let me know when you finish your next 100.  I’ll sign you up for the award too.

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One thought on “On the Significance of Reading

  1. […] C. The Significance of Reading. Wisdom fr a good source, The Word Nerds blog. They’re celebrating 100 bks each in 2013 w/ a smart post on why. A toast to reading! Link here […]

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