Editor’s Note: Diana Tarant Schmidt’s novel Remember For Me will be available soon. Click here to grab your copy.
C.S. Lewis’ words have always resonated with me when he said, “We read to know that we aren’t alone.” But the interpretation of those words can be widespread. How can we teach a love for reading when the reason why we read varies so drastically? In fact, a single person may contemplate several variances to that question depending on the day, the year, their mood, or setting.
Reading is all consuming. Depending on my purpose, I love voraciously scouring through texts, finding those insightful inspirations that bring me to my next thought. It may be for writing, it may be for thinking, and it may sometimes be for teaching, but it is always for information. I often take in information like an assembly line. I filter it in, sift through it, and repurpose it depending on the mood and the day. And then there are the times when I simply want to escape. I crave the ability to remove myself and get lost in love or adventure, fantasy or fear. I can get consumed by a story to the point at which characters become a part of my life.
Of course, there are logical reasons for why we read. Not only can it increase intelligence, but it physically exercises the muscle that is the brain. The Huffington Post reported that frequent brain exercise was able to lower mental decline by 32 percent. Along with this, reading can teach skills that we can’t emphasize enough as parents and educators. Empathy is one. When asked what they wanted from characters in a book, many junior high students responded by describing characteristics for which they personally strive. Ana, 12, said “I want them to show commitment to the problem in their life. I want them to show bravery.” While an eleven-year-old boy, Jude “wants this character to fight for what he/she believes in.” Thirteen-year-old Jeanjuella agrees that she “enjoys a character that is interesting, whether they are imperfect or an incredible hero.” Sasha, also twelve, likes their “personality to be a little shy with new people, but once comfortable, they grow to be outgoing and a little goofy.”
Physically, studies are finding connections to increased daily brain activity and the reduction of the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. As this is something very personal to me, why not join the fight against it by doing something that elicits immense joy? Sussex University researchers found that the act of reading may reduce stress by as much as 68%. Neuroscientists from Stanford University, along with a Michigan State University professor, looked at brain activity during particular types of reading. The professor, Natalie Phillips, found that during “focused and engaged reading” many parts of the brain were functioning at a high level, including those that are used for touch and movement. This suggests that “readers are placing themselves within the story as they read it.”
The reasons in favor of reading are plentiful. But, we have always known that it doesn’t hurt to read. So, with billions of books circulating the globe, the best thing we can do is to consistently share what we love about them. Use social media to talk about them. Bring books up in conversations. Help others find their reason to read. Reading truly is transformative.