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The last paper I wrote in college was a 20-something page piece on the reading brain and why it matters. I did 12 weeks of research only to barely cover the surface of a subject that I grew to love more as the term progressed. I’ve always been a bookworm and writing a paper on why it’s so important to read was extremely fun ( I know, really nerdy).
This blog is hardly the place for such a long paper but I do want to share some things I found out while researching this project. So, lister that I am, I came up with 7 Reasons Why You Should Be Reading Books.
1. Reading strengthens your brain.
According to Rita Carter, science writer and presenter of BBC’s documentary, Why Reading Matters, the brain doesn’t have a central reading system. Reading happens in, what she calls, a “cerebral internet”. In other words, it takes several regions in different areas of the brain to make reading possible. Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid, says that, unlike all other human behaviors such as vision or speech, reading has no direct genetic program that is passed from parent to child. We’re not born with neurological ‘reading tools’. Our brains form connections between regions designed to perform other functions in order to process and understand written language. Rita Carter interviewed Dr. Cathy Price of University College in London who gave a simplified explanation of how this works:
“There are no areas of the brain that only respond to reading. All the areas that are involved in reading are also involved in recognizing objects, in speaking. In order to read, it’s the connections between the visual inputs and the component sounds that need to be linked together. So this doesn’t involve any new brain regions. What it involves is stronger and more efficient links.”
Our brains possess what is called neuroplasticity, which means it is capable of learning new things and forming new habits by making and strengthening new connections. Reading is one of the best examples of this. The more you read and deepen those connections, the more you’re exercising and strengthening your brain.
2. Reading boosts your empathy.
BBC’s Rita Carter also brought up the fact that stories can help us become more empathetic. According to an article in Psychology Today, we were meant to tell stories, they provide order, and they connect us with others. Stories give us space to exercise our emotional responses to other people’s situations. John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns talks about this in an episode of Crash Course
“By understanding language, you will, 1). have a fuller understanding of lives other than your own, 2). will help you be more empathetic…Reading critically and attentively can give you the linguistic tools to share your own story with more precision. Reading critically gives us better tools to explain corporate profits and broken hearts and it also connects us to each other.”
3. Reading increases your vocabulary.
I especially like this one cause I love trying out new words that I find in books. It is true that we pick up words from television and conversation but the truth is, we don’t speak the way we write. Written word is much richer lexically than spoken word. In other words, we use better and more varied words when we write than when we speak. The same goes for syntax–we structure sentences better when we write. A great study done by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith Stanovich explains that children who read will have a richer vocabulary and better grasp of syntactical structure than their peers who watch television. Reading enhances their ability to process language, both written and spoken. And because our brains are plastic, it doesn’t matter what your performance was like in school, the same can be true for adults as well.
4. Reading makes you a better communicator.
This is points 2 & 3 at their best. A rich vocabulary isn’t the only pre-requisite of good communication. Effective communication is a two way street where both parties must take turns at being sender and receiver. Understanding and sympathizing with another person’s situation (empathy) and the ability to effectively express yourself verbally makes for a great communicator. Why? Because it’s not only about having something to say but also ensuring that what you’re saying is of value and how you’re saying it is thoughtful and appropriate. Because there is order, logic, brain connectivity, and emotion at play when we read, we are strengthening those areas that make us effective communicators.
5. Reading actual books is a unique experience.
This isn’t something I was able to add to my final paper but I still find it important so I’ll include it here.
I have a Kindle and I think it’s a great way to consume material on the go but there is something about reading an actual book that is unique and beneficial in ways that cannot be recreated by any other medium. An article in Medical Daily says that the tactile experience of holding a book, turning the pages, and moving from left to right aids in the ability to comprehend and remember the text. E-books, with often fragmented text and links to the net also disrupt focus and concentration. Your brain is going through a very complicated process in order to read and actual books facilitate this process better than e-readers.
6. Reading is the best way to relax.
I didn’t include this in my paper either but I think it’s also important. One article I came across in my research explained that a study showed that reading is a more effective stress reliever than taking a walk, listening to music, or drinking a hot cup of tea. Subjects of the research experienced lowered heart rate and decreased muscle tension. Reading helps us relax, and takes our minds off the day’s commotion which makes it the perfect thing to do before going to sleep.
7. Reading is super attractive.
Lastly, this also didn’t make it my paper but as much as this is my nerdy opinion, I’m not the only one who thinks this. You’ve heard it said intelligence is sexy? It’s so true. Why? Because readers are more emotionally and cognitively intelligent. A well-read person bolsters their knowledge base and that makes them better conversationalists. When you read broadly and smartly, you have more to offer in your relationships, your families, your careers, and your communities making you more interesting, useful, and, well yeah, sexy.
If you don’t consider yourself much of a reader, then I challenge you to change that. Reading is a privilege and something we shouldn’t take for granted. History tells us that the number one way people kept control of others was by keeping back the written word (think Dark Ages and American slavery). We know knowledge is power; take advantage of it.
In my opinion, I think a good percentage of the mischief people get into would vanish if they would just read good books. And while I’m all for good literature, I’m also an advocate for great non-fiction. If you currently read mostly novels, re-consider your book list and add a healthy dose of spiritual growth, history, social science, biographies, art, business and other subjects that will give you insight and help shape a healthy, well-informed worldview. It’s a part of good maturity which this generation could use more of.
There’s a lot to learn and even more books to learn from. Pick up a book and see what wonderful things you’ll discover within the pages!