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.

Woman reading a letter by Wang Yi Dong, b. 1955, China

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.

Reading on the beach by Darren Thompson, b. 1968, U.S.

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.

A Young Man Reading at Candlelight by Matthias Stom, b. 1615, undocumented birth.

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.

Girl reading, Slava Groshev, b. 1967, Russia

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”.]

The Astronomy Lesson by Steven Seward, b. 1958, the U.S.

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:

  1. Empathy: Imagining creates understanding
  2. Disengagement: Reading is most effective for stress
  3. Sleep: Regular readers sleep better (don’t read nonfiction before bed)
  4. Improved relationships: Books are a β€˜reality simulator’
  5. Memory: Readers have less mental decline in later life
  6. Inclusivity: Stories open your mind
  7. Vocabulary: Fiction readers build more language
  8. Creativity: Fictions allows for uncertainty (where creativity thrives!)
  9. Pleasure: Reading makes you happier
Tree of life by Dion Pollard, b. Washington D.C.

What about you? Do you read regularly? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? e-readers or paper books? What are you reading these days?


43 replies on “The gifts of a reading habit

  1. Such a great post! The world needs more readers and thinkers right now. The state of Indian media makes me think none of them have read a book in their lives. πŸ™ˆ
    I love reading – though I’ve been reading a lot less these days (argh, Netflix). Books have often substituted friends for me. Also, escaping into a different world is a great way to deal with stress! ☺️
    What are you reading currently?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Yes, I’m glad you picked up on that. It really feels like many countries/people around the world need to come together and have a conversation. Not a screaming match, but an honest to god exchange and the decline of reading in the US has got to be related somehow!

      I’m kind of a reading monster these days as I’m reading 3 diff novels with 3 diff students online, as well as nonfiction stuff on writing well.

      But at night before bed, I’ve been reading Katherine, a 1954 historical novel by Anya Seton and Calypso which is a collection of essays by David Sedaris.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do enjoy posts about reading! Agree with all of this of course. Reading not only flips a switch, it turns on a whole city-wide power grid in the mind.
    I’ve enjoyed discovering audiobooks this year. With the virus forcing me to walk to and from work for months of this year I’ve really got through some decent β€˜reading’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your analogy! There have been times when I’ve worried that I’m ‘escaping’ by reading so much, but I’ve come to appreciate that my brain is working even if it doesn’t feel like it! πŸ˜›

      Yes, audiobooks are great for those perfect moments like a long road trip or commute.

      Like

  3. I long for the good old days when I would spend hours wandering around the library or bookstore. I have had a kindle for years and do love it, but once in a while I buy a real book. The smell, the feel of the pages is something very special. I have a hard time finding ebooks that are more than 300 pages. It is frustrating because I like to get lost in a long story with characters that I miss when I am done. I wish there was a sort by pages option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have an older Kindle so I know what you are talking about. I miss when I would stare at the front or back cover art. I’d memorize the writer’s name or the artist’s, but with a Kindle you don’t really flip through pages or stare at something other than the page you are reading. I also hate how looking at family tree’s or a map becomes a chore. Maybe the newer versions have answers to this but yeah, I totally understand, Lin! And yes, I desperately miss the library and bookstores from back home!

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  4. Fabulous post–of course you’re preaching to the choir here! Ah, Waldenbooks, takes me back. The disengagement found in fiction reading is so very beneficial for me, though I never really think about it as therapy, but it probably lowers my stress by half, daily! Reading was also one of the first loves I could really share with my kids. I was reading Winnie the Pooh to them when they were just a couple months old–obviously more for me than then. But, thankfully, they’re both avid readers now. Just caught them up reading at 11, last night–tough to scold them for being up late if they’re doing something so beneficial!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so so wonderful. The reading bit, not the staying up late πŸ˜› Yes, I enjoyed reading to my students when I taught the little ones. I can perform the sweet reading voice for kids. Hahahhaa.

      Glad you liked it, and always nice to preach to the choir every once in a while πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I should read more. Have got out of the habit but you’ve given me all the reasons why I should get back into it. Is that your first book advertised on the side of your page, Lani? I didn’t realise you had already published a book.
    Now I’m going to bed after having just read this piece. I’ll know next time to save your posts for the morning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. πŸ˜› Thanks for reading day or night! Yes, my attempt at self-publishing. UGH, what a pain in the ass. But learned a lot and now am taking my sweet damn time on the second one.

      Hope you find that perfect book to get you back into it. xo

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s when the artist’s were born πŸ˜› Actually, I understand a little of how challenging it is for you to find the names of paintings. Just finding the dates or nationalities were a P in the A as well. And name of the painting? Forgetaboutit.

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      1. Ah. I’ve never put an artist’s date of birth in a caption. And turns out the world doesn’t revolve around my unique perspective. OK, well, one of the reasons I thought the paintings were so brilliant was how modern they seemed for their time. Still brilliant, but now possible to compete with.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a book monster as well (forget about that lousy book worm unless you mean the sandworm from Dune!)! πŸ˜€ Last month I broke my personal record and devoured 12 books (normally it’s 4-6)! Totally prefer paper books as my eyes don’t like too much time in front of a screen and they’re already doing enough of that in WP. πŸ˜‰
    And you’re so right about the importance of reading!! Although once, when I had real trouble falling asleep I read a non-fiction book about quantum physics – worked every time: my brain escaped almost instantly to get away from all that science. πŸ˜‚ Currently reading The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. DUNE! Yes! Wow, you did read a lot. I never count but I did for a couple of years write down all the books I read during that yr. It was great to see. I need to do that again.

      And yes, some books can be dry or too much thinking that acts like a beautiful sedative. πŸ˜›

      Ooo. The Sun book sounds interesting. Good reviews. I might have to pick that up next. Maybe start at the beginning of the series?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I started writing them down last year and yes, it’s great to see and remember after a while. A friend of mine even writes little reviews of the books she’s read!

        You don’t really have to start at the beginning of the Seven Sisters series but I’d recommend it. Especially loved the Shadow and the Pearl Sister. πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I downloaded the first book. Excited!

        P.S. looks like they made Dune another movie, just saw the preview on YT, haven’t watched it yet…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Awesome! Let me know how you find it, will you? πŸ˜€

        Oh oh, new Dune movie? Can’t wait to see it!! 😁 xo

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Lani, I love the art you chose for this post-so interesting and beautiful! I hated reading until after I graduated from college because it was always something had been forced to do. Now, my husband and I both get practically get panicky if we don’t a book to read. And due to the pandemic, we have both reluctantly adapted to reading on our phones. Would be losing it more than I already am between the pandemic and politics if it weren’t for books. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG. I know, right? It’s a damn shame you can’t have books delivered from you library. No e-reader? I can’t imagine reading from my phone unless it was a tablet. Do you ever read from your PC? I have to read on my computer for work and Kindle for pleasure πŸ˜›

      I remember not reading anything I wanted to in college. I resigned but my reading habit probably saved me since that’s all we did in college – read and write papers!

      Like

      1. Hahhaha. Just wipe it down with alcohol or let it sit outside in the fresh air for a bit. πŸ˜›

        Like

  8. I’m a paper book fan, but I buy a lot from 2nd hand shops which means I can buy more than if I was buying new all the time. I just came back from 10 days in the north of England with 12 new books! The sad thing is, now I’m working from home, I don’t have a commute to read in, so finding reading time takes a bit more work. Oh, the number of times I had to break midway through a chapter because I had to get off the train and go to work, and spent the whole day at work worried about the characters until I could get on the train home and find out what had happened to them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Love it. A built in cliffhanger and a way to give you something to look forward to as well. Brilliant.

      Yes, work from home disrupted many schedules. I read before bed so if the book is really good I end up staying up later than I should.

      I hope you find a new time to read because it sounds like you’re sitting on a gold mine! πŸ™‚

      Like

  9. I love the artwork you’ve chosen for this blog post, Lani. Especially the very last one. I often prefer to stay home with a book than go out and socialise. Not to mention that I cannot fall asleep unless I’ve read something. These days I prefer my eReader, as I can hide my obsession with books, and it is much easier that way when I have to pack up and move, although I always accumulate coffee table and recipe books. Mostly I find that reference books work better when they are printed. I prefer non-fiction (both when I read or watch TV/movies), but I won’t say no to a well written book of fiction. I have just started reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooo. Took a quick look at the book you are reading. Sounds really interesting!

      Yeah, I have to admit, my Kindle spoils me. It’s easy, lightweight, and kinder to my eyes. I can’t believe I’ve made the switch! I was supposed to be a loyal print reader!

      As far as fiction and non, I go through phases, but these days have a tendency to read non during the day and fiction at night. πŸ˜›

      Yes, I love the last painting. I can identify with the ‘who am i’ written on the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Your blogpost made me feel better about all the fiction I read! Very happy to read that it helps with cognitive thinking later in life, as I have been worried about dementia (runs in the family). There is simply nothing better than getting lost in a book, or getting lost in your imagination because of all the worlds books built in your head. Thanks for the lovely post — I think I’m going to go read a book now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heya Mary! Nice to hear from you! Glad to hear it. I suppose yes, sometimes we wonder if “escape reading” is something we should feel guilty about, but honestly, we all need to ‘check out’ regularly. I believe it does the body good πŸ˜›

      Happy reading, and sweet dreams!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve been a reader since I was a child! My mum got me a library card when I was 6 and I would go get new books every week. I think I read the whole children’s section, haha! Reading has definitely helped me in my job as a translator: vocabulary, grammar, spelling (in Spanish, v and b sound the same, and h doesn’t have a sound, so many people write words that contain these letters incorrectly).

    These days I mostly read ebooks. Comics books I get the physical version. Now I’m reading a Chinese sci-fi (in English translation, though. I’m not THAT crazy 🀣).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But you do read Chinese books though, right? So you are super crazy smart!

      I remember in primary school visiting the library and the weekly visits. Letting us borrow what we wanted, and later learning the Dewy Decimal system and how to use things like microfilm for old periodicals. Ah, a time lost to the Internet…

      Like

  12. Considering the fact that 1 of my degrees, is English Literature, I haven’t read a novel cover to cover for the past 15 years and more. I read non-fiction.

    I think it’s effort of good fiction. I find non-fiction more brainless actually. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. πŸ˜€ It sounds like you enjoy learning when you read. I can relate! I think that is why I gravitate towards historical fiction. Heavy sci-fi can also be great for imagining the science of the future. But maybe all that reading in college burned you out of fiction πŸ˜› Or you just know what you like!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I don’t know what’s this compulsive thing in me but whenever someone mentions reading, i always ask them if they’ve read Haruki Murakami’s novels yet. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew. But now i hardly get any time but whatever time i do get, i’ll read some new author. Kind of gives my brain a chance to see things from different perspective that new author brings and it’s refreshing! And i did notice my own self growth when i started reading, all these years, life has been an adventure. I love traveling but right now due to the corona situation, I’m happy having a novel by my side, it kind of takes my mind off what’s happening outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Your words are actually reflecting a piece I’m working on regarding ‘writing as an act of service’ something Malcolm Gladwell stated. Also, the wonderful way that reading helps us to be more compassionate by stepping into the shoes of another person and perspective.

      I have read Murakami πŸ™‚ I enjoyed his running memoir even though I do not run. And another novel whose name escapes me at the moment – he has many good ones that have been recommended.

      I love reading! It has been a BANANAS year but a good year for books! Thanks, xo

      Liked by 1 person

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