Does reading make us smarter, nicer, or lovelier?

Powell's City of Books -
Powell’s City of Books –

I read a lot—because I enjoy it, because I’m a writer, because I can. I’m the type of person who has to buy books, because I mark them up with pens and pencils and dog-ear the pages. Books, in my opinion, are sexy. I’m humbled by the amount of time, attention and care that went into writing and creating a book, which then rests solely in my hands; a product of one individual’s mind manifested in physical form, relying on my reading it for its very existence. Books can change you. Books are intimate experiences. (And no, I’m not talking about Fifty Shades of Grey.)

Apparently, book lovers are the best people to fall in love with. Well, depending on who you ask. I don’t feel the need to expound on the links below (listed by date), but simply share the most salacious snippets. Does reading make us smarter, nicer, or lovelier? Maybe. Maybe not.

We praise literature in self-evident terms: it is better to read than not to read, for reading civilizes us, makes us less cruel, and brings the imaginations of others into ours and vice versa. We persist in this belief regardless of what we know to the contrary: that the Nazis’ affection for high culture did not prevent their crimes.

A Reader’s War” by Teju Cole
New Yorker, February 11, 2013

Everything depends in the end on whether we can find direct, causal evidence: we need to show that exposure to literature itself makes some sort of positive difference to the people we end up being. That will take a lot of careful and insightful psychological research (try designing an experiment to test the effects of reading “War and Peace,” for example). Meanwhile, most of us will probably soldier on with a positive view of the improving effects of literature, supported by nothing more than an airy bed of sentiment.

Does Great Literature Make Us Better?” by Gregory Currie
New York Times Opinionator Blog & The Stone, June 1, 2013

The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love.

Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer” by Annie Murphy Paul
TIME, June 3, 2013

Readers, like voicemail leavers and card writers, are now a dying breed, their numbers decreasing with every GIF list and online tabloid.

The worst part about this looming extinction is that readers are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and maybe the only people worth falling in love with on this shallow hell on earth.

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With” by Lauren Martin
Elite Daily, July 9, 2014



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