By Ray Petersen — I thought to myself the other night, “I’ll just read one more chapter” of a David Baldacci book I had started a couple of weeks ago, saved on my tablet, and wouldn’t you know it, the battery ran out. “Someone’s trying to tell me something,” I thought as I reached for the light switch, turned off the light, rolled over and went to sleep.
A couple of nights later, it was late-ish, as I picked up my tablet again, noted 100 per cent power, and took up where I had left off. I became engrossed, as a number of related, yet diverse storylines began to come together, leading to a typical Baldacci conclusion. I was slowly but surely reeled in, like a fish on a hook, and eventually, on the wrong side of 1 am, I finished it. I had guessed correctly sometimes, wrong others, yet I wasn’t tired, I was elated, uplifted in that way that only books can do, and slept like a baby!
I was moved, the next day, to do some research about the effects of reading on our physical and mental well-being, and found to my surprise, that a study at the University of Sussex, in 2009, found that reading significantly, and quickly, reduces stress. I like reading a lot, but I would never have thought of it as more calming and relaxing than a nice cup of tea, some Enya music, or a nice walk. The study found that reading brings you to a relaxed state within a mere six minutes.
George RR Martin, creator of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series, said, “A reader lives a thousand lives… while those who do not read, live only one,” and really, it’s not a bad observation to make. Reading, you see, takes you to a different place, and on a different journey. We learn to empathise with the characters, and to some extent develop a number of admirable qualities through these vicarious experiences.
In our immersion in the character, identity, and social environment of the book, we experience, maybe not all of, but certainly many, of the traits and deeds of those “thousand lives” Martin refers to. We develop confidence, courage, and experience from their experiences, and a quite intense understanding of the many qualities required in adversity. So reading makes us stronger.
Becky Lyn Rickman writes too about our ability, over time, to have the cerebral flexibility and connectivity to more readily step into the shoes of our characters, and to understand their reasoning process. In doing so, we surely become better communicators as we interact more effectively with the greater variety of personalities around us. We become more able to deal with the diversity not only of characters in books, but real people, from a thousand different environments.
Richard Robinson is the Chairman, President and CEO of Scholastic Inc. I guess that makes him pretty important huh? But he encourages belief in the almost exorbitant value of reading, vehement that reading “develops higher order thinking skills” and allows students to more effectively identify their individual aims and objectives with absolute clarity.
He is emphatic too, that “having heard concerns about distraction and lack of time or interest, we have also heard hope and optimism about the power of reading to transform lives. Against the backdrop of rigour asked for by common standards frameworks, teachers and families also want school to become more motivational, engaging and personal.”
He continued, saying, “Teachers, in particular, believe that school can be a place where children’s eyes are opened to the power of imagination and discovery, and they see independent reading as a driving force in the student’s academic and personal development.”
I like too that Robinson advocates that a child who is excited by reading, should be encouraged to choose their next book, and their next, and their next. Let them get on that ‘happy bus’ to Excitement Avenue, Imagination Street, Curiosity Cove, Discovery Alley, Joy Town, and Funland, and if they want to read more, then definitely give them more to read. Then, sit back and watch them drive their own learning process.
What kind of books you ask? If they are stymied, and you too, you can’t go a long way wrong by guiding them towards the same books that made you happy, the same stories, the same heroes, villains, laughter and tears. After all, they share your DNA.
And if you’re still stuck, poetry teaches them how to use words, and how to form basic relationships between words and other words, to make words, and to learn how words, and new words sound. Last week I encouraged you to channel your wit and unleash your imagination. This week, help someone else do exactly the same thing.