There is a simple and inexpensive treatment that reduces symptoms of depression and the risk of dementia, improves wellbeing throughout life increases empathy, improves relationships with others and makes you happy. It’s freely available to everyone, at least while public libraries still exist. To make the treatment effective the only necessary pre-condition is enjoyment:
With reading so good for you this statement, from the Reading Agency is a little shocking:
In the UK, reading levels are low among people of all ages: most children do not read on a daily basis and almost a third of adults don’t read for pleasure. (August 2015)
I think again of the young woman in the bookshop I reported on in a recent post: ‘I’ve never bought a book in my life’.
Reading is good for you
In the summer the Reading Agency published the report The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. It brought together findings from 51 research papers to conclude that reading does us good.
Reading helps you understand the world
Barack Obama was talking to novelist Marilyn Robinson when he described how reading made him a better citizen, which was about
being comfortable with the notion that the world is complex and full of greys, but there is still truth to be found …And the notion that its positive to connect with someone else though they be very different to you. (From The Guardian 30.10.15)
The President is a best selling writer himself. The importance of fiction for politicians was wittily demonstrated by Yann Martel in his book What are you Reading Mr Harper? and explored in a recent blogpost here.
The Reading Agency report indicates that reading is helpful to all readers in developing and understanding of other people and cultures and thereby helps develop empathy.
Reading helps you understand yourself better
If reading develops empathy, we should not be surprised that reading helps us understand ourselves as well, helps with developing out identities. Fiction, in particular, helps you see the world and yourself in it, in new ways, opens up possibilities.
Reading helps your cognitive functions
This is just another way of saying that reading keeps you mentally active, increases your knowledge, provokes you with conundrums and mysteries, expands your vocabulary, encourages your creativity, helps you become a better writer.
Reading helps you feel better: bibliotherapy
The New Yorker published an article called Can Reading Make you Happy? by Ceridwen Dovey in January 2015. The answer is yes, and you can read the piece here. She had experienced bibliotherapy suggested by one of the authors of The Reading Cure.
The Reading Cure: and A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin is a handbook to keep with your other home cures, according to the writers. This book has a book for every condition, every ailment. Of course I checked up on one or two and selected one or two of their suggestions.
Noisy neighbours – well their dogs? Try some audio books, read by top class readers: Middlemarch by George Eliot read by Juliet Stevenson; The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, read by Alan Rickman.
Being Seventy-Something? (I’m not, but it’s not far off). Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym; Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Procrastinating? The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Partner snoring? They recommended some soothing books but I’d recommend any book, the edge brought sharply into contact with the shoulder, enough to get them to change their position.
And let’s not forget that books help us relax, calm us, take us far away from our own struggles.
So if reading is such a good thing, why, oh why, are so many councils closing libraries? (Yes, yes, I know that so-called austerity means difficult choices for councils, pitting beds for old people and holes in the roads against free and available books). We really need to keep on at the people who suggest library cuts. One way is to support National Library Day on Saturday 6th February 2016. Details on the Reading Agency’s website.
Sources for this post
The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, a literature review for The Reading Agency, June 2015. Conducted by BOP Consulting funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation. Also available from the Reading Agency’s website.
Reading for pleasure builds empathy and improves wellbeing from The Reading Agency (August 2015)
5 Ways Reading Can Improve Your Life by Leila Cruickshank, on Scottish Book Trust website (November 2015)
The Power of Reading from Norah Colvin’s blog in August 2015.
The Reading Cure: and A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. Published in 2015 by Canongate. 460pp
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