They shape our beliefs, values, and attitudes. They broaden our perspectives on politics, love, and money. They show us how to get out of the doldrums and change our lives forever. They improve the way our minds and memories function, and they can be endlessly entertaining. Thousands of them inspire us to the best that we can be. Yet these days books struggle to play a significant role in many people’s lives. What can they actually do for us? What do the researchers and expert commentators have to say about the value of books?
The value of reading
Enhanced memory and brain function
A National Academy of Sciences study has shown that older people who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s. Those who read are said to have higher Grade Point Averages, higher intelligence, and more general knowledge than those who don’t. Moreover, reading challenging material (say, with varied vocabulary or complicated ideas) helps us to comprehend all literature better. Reading not only preserves our brains and minds, but actually grows them. If you’re worried about losing your memory, take heart: every time you read, you create a new memory, forging new synapses, strengthening existing synapses, and thus keeping your memory sharp.
Expanded vocabulary and analytical skills, plus improved writing
It’s a no-brainer that if you are exposed to a greater variety of words, you will absorb more of them, thus expanding your vocabulary. Exposure to other people’s thoughts also helps to strengthen your analytical thinking skills as you learn to spot patterns and trace pathways to logical conclusions. Moreover, you get some of your favourite writers’ “smarts” by osmosis. Great books – written by great minds – elevate our consciousness.
By taking on some of the mind-blowing ideas contained therein, the authors’ genius rubs off on us. There is a Spanish saying: “Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.” We can say, “Tell me who you are reading and I’ll tell you how effectively you are growing yourself.” The more broadly we read, the more we can think, engage, and/ converse on a variety of subjects, allowing our minds to operate not just in our chosen professional field, but in virtually any discipline. The upshot of this? You write better!
Reading as therapy
When we deeply engage with a book, we “gear-shift”. Immersed in a story or deep discussion, we are transported to another realm. Reading can reduce stress, improve our mood, and be highly therapeutic. A consumer behaviour researcher at an American University notes that reading can be a way to relive past experiences and gain new perspective. We gain insight from fiction as much as non-fiction when we identify with characters working through various life challenges.
Empathy and understanding our humanity
Some people regard fiction as inferior to non-fiction, but they are missing the point. Fiction gives us insight and truths about the human condition. A University of Buffalo study showed that, even though fiction is, by definition, imaginary, reading it helps us to conceive of other possibilities: a life beyond our own. This means that we can empathise with the challenges of other times and other cultures, even though we may never have lived in the period of the novel or travelled to the country in which it takes place. Ultimately, reading great books is about exploring our humanity, as through them we enter into the discussion of what it means to be a person. Furthermore, a study for the National Endowment for the Arts found that people who read regularly are much more likely to be engaged in voting, exercising, and being involved in cultural activities.
Happy reading, everyone!
Which books inspire you; which books have changed your life? We’d love to hear.
Bloom, S. (2016). 15 books to inspire you to a more interesting life. Dosomethingcool.net. Retrieved on 6 April, 2016, from: http://dosomethingcool.net/15-books-inspire-interesting-life/
Jamie. (2009). 10 ways reading the great books can improve your life. Self Made Scholar. Retrieved on 6 April, 2016, from: http://selfmadescholar.com/b/2009/03/04/10-ways-reading-the-great-books-...
La Rosa, E. (2013). 12 scientific ways reading can actually improve your life. BuzzFeed. Retrieved on 6 April, 2016, from: http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/12-scientific-ways-reading-can-actual...
LifeDev. (2014). 8 Benefits of Reading (or Ways Reading Makes You Better at Life). LifeDev.net. Retrieved on 6 April, 2016, from: http://lifedev.net/2009/06/reading-makes-you-better/