I love the book. I love the story. I love the words. In the English language, there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and yet there are endless permutations and combinations that, when skilfully placed next to each other, form stories that transport you to someone’s room, a neighbourhood, the ends of a country, the ends of the world, in fact and in the imagination, in space and underwater and all around. How magnificent!
Reading literally changes your mind, says Healthline. Neuroscientists, using MRI brain scanners, have confirmed that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain, which get stronger and more sophisticated the more you read. Parts of the brain can be activated more often during different types of stories, such as suspense and crime stories, love stories, and animal stories.
Researchers have shown that people who read literary fiction – made-up stories about the lives of characters – show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. This is called the ‘theory of the mind’ ability – the skills for building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships. They say that long-term fiction readers tend to have better-developed social relationships.
Reading can improve vocabulary and communication. Researchers say that the earlier people start to read, the better. And continuing to read as we age maintains cognitive functioning. A 2013 study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that people who engage in reading all their lives were less likely to develop the plaques, lesions, and tau-proteins in the brains of people with dementia.
In January 2009, researchers from Seton Hall University and the University of Texas published a study in the Journal of College Teaching and Learning, about their experiments to measure the effects of yoga, humour, and reading on stress levels of students in health science courses in American universities. They found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of distress just as effectively as yoga and humour.
Reading may also help you live longer. Researchers from Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, published a study in July 2017 in the Innovation in Aging journal about reading and longevity. They studied 3,635 adult participants for a period of 12 years and found that those who read books survived about 2 years longer than those who didn’t read anything and even longer than those who read magazines and other forms of media.They found that people reading for 3 hours and 30 minutes every week were 23% more likely to live longer than those who didn’t read at all.
Scientists agree that reading solely on a device is not as effective as reading from a mixed range of sources – real books and online media.
Reading can involve a book, a novella, a magazine, a newspaper, a journal, a comic, a manual, or anything in print – online, electronic, and in physical form. Even a photography book or a picture book. Any book.
A book – actual and electronic – can be taken almost anywhere.
Reading is usually performed alone, but it can be performed in groups – and there are book clubs for discussions about selected books. There are bric-a-book used book sales, book fairs, book seminars, reading conferences, literary events and celebrations, and much more – in your neighbourhood and around the world.
There are organisations that provide free reading courses and literacy classes. There are libraries to borrow books and reading materials.
Visit the famous bouquinistes in Paris – booksellers that sell their books from green boxes along the river Seine, just as they have done since the 19th century when the city permitted booksellers to have a permanent location. Closed and locked at night, the green boxes sit on top of the parapet along a portion of the right bank and the left bank of the river – for a length of about three kilometres. Open during the day, the boxes contain books, posters, cards, magazines, comics, prints, stamps, and papers. The owners can choose when to open from sunrise to sunset, and they pay an annual fee to the city. There are 240 registered bouquinistes with 900 bouquiniste boxes. The bouquinistes of the Seine are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Since 1930, the French government set strict regulations about the size, colour, and weight of the bouquiniste boxes. Each box is identical and green. The length is 2 metres (6.5 feet) and the width is 75 centimetres (30 inches) to enable pedestrian access to the pavement. When open, the upper edge of the box should not be more than 2 metres (6.5 feet) above the ground.
Audio books, and having someone read aloud to you, are alternatives to reading. Audio books and tapes can be played while traveling, doing housework and gardening, and at any time.
As a teenager, I was reading a book while cooking dinner and, despite the fact that I was standing next to the pot, the contents boiled dry and burned. Fortunately, I did smell it before there was any damage in the kitchen – but the food was inedible. So, maybe reading while cooking should be avoided. And reading while walking should be avoided, if possible, too and reading should never be undertaken while driving.
Reading does not necessarily address core issues.
“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.” – Bill Patterson
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
“Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.” – Roxane Gay
“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.” – Paul Auster
VIDEO: BOOK EXTRACT READING
Extract from Bardot’s Comet (2011) by Martina Nicolls
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