Falling in love with reading has been one of my biggest influences. I can’t imagine my life without a good book or even a shampoo bottle for me to read. I was thirteen when I walked into Waldenbooks out of utter desperation to do something with my time after I had no friends, no outside playground, after we relocated from tropical Mililani, Hawaii to tumbleweed-ridden Barstow, California.
My junior high teacher yelled at me for reading when she was already reading to the class from what I deemed to be a highly uninteresting book. At first, I was sly and read with the book in my lap, but then I got engrossed and plunked my elbow on the desk, my arm vertically raised with the paperback held open between my thumb and pinky. I might as well have been waving it in her face. It was an audacious move, I confess.
Throughout my eleven years of blogging, I’ve written a great deal about my love of reading. Books that have changed my life, discovering Wonder Woman comics, on audiobooks, good books that I’m reading, and so on. But I don’t think I’ve really thought about the benefits of a lifetime of reading, especially during those formative years, until I started teaching literature to students.
So what are the benefits of reading? You can probably makes some guesses, but here are some scientific details.
Basically, there are three ways psychologists can define ‘intelligence’. First, there is “crystallized intelligence” where you gain not only new information (learn something new) but possibly new knowledge. “Book intelligence” is what we are already familiar with, facts and such. Lastly, “fluid intelligence” has to do with problem solving and ‘reading between the lines.’ And these days, fluid intelligence and reading are considered so closely related, it’s incestuous.
As Americans become more politically polarized, I definitely see the need for more fluid intelligence. There’s no such thing as political discourse anymore, just conspiracy theories, one-liners, and shouting louder. I remember when news sources were not very different, but now, they are shockingly different. Much of today’s mainstream journalism is based on tweets, be-first to break the news, and opinions and feelings.
[I was listening to a podcast with Jonathan Haidt’s and he mentioned that in 2009 Facebook added the ‘like’ button and Twitter, the retweet. And the world cease to turn in the way that it had before. But he also gave good advice about politics on social media, “be kind, tone down the certainty because it’s hard to find the truth”.]
According to Healthline. Research shows that regular reading:
- improves brain connectivity
- increases your vocabulary and comprehension
- empowers you to empathize with other people
- aids in sleep readiness
- reduces stress
- lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- fights depression symptoms
- prevents cognitive decline as you age
- contributes to a longer life
But you knew all that already, right? Something I also thought about was the importance of daydreaming (in children). I know for me I need that time, not only after reading, but during writing. I often get up and do something else while I don’t think of anything, but somewhere all that book learnin’ is swirling around. And I’m not just talking about nonfiction either.
According to this great article by Buffer (lots of wonderful quotes and images as well), there are 9 benefits to reading fiction:
- Empathy: Imagining creates understanding
- Disengagement: Reading is most effective for stress
- Sleep: Regular readers sleep better (don’t read nonfiction before bed)
- Improved relationships: Books are a ‘reality simulator’
- Memory: Readers have less mental decline in later life
- Inclusivity: Stories open your mind
- Vocabulary: Fiction readers build more language
- Creativity: Fictions allows for uncertainty (where creativity thrives!)
- Pleasure: Reading makes you happier
What about you? Do you read regularly? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? e-readers or paper books? What are you reading these days?