There is nothing quite like browsing in a book shop. The sheer variety of books on offer make the whole experience so enriching and so magical. Just that smell of new books is enough to transport you away on an adventure, the opportunity to lose yourself in another world. Reading those first few words and finding yourself utterly absorbed is one of life’s true luxuries.
The Roman philosopher, Cicero saw the importance of books. He is quoted as saying, “A room without books is like a body without a soul,” and, “To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.” Wise words indeed.
Now we don’t all need a library but I wonder if your rooms are full of books, and perhaps what the last book was that you read. Probably, like most people, carving out the time to read in our busy lives can be a difficult task and one that often gets put on the back burner. It can be easier to flick on the TV rather than pick up that book. We all know the importance of reading – it is one of life’s most important skills. It helps us navigate the world around us and gives us access to information, other cultures and so much more. Reading unlocks doors to the future in more ways than you might think. Research has shown that reading helps our children in an abundance of different ways – from helping them to develop empathy and creativity, to improving their academic performance and social skills. Reading should be at the very heart of our children’s lives.
Increasingly, new research across many countries is showing that the best predictor of educational achievement and life success is reading ability – or, perhaps more significantly, being an engaged reader. John Guthrie, from the University of Maryland, found that, “The engaged reader is purposeful, intrinsically motivated, and socially interactive.”
It appears from this growing body of research that individuals who read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathise with them and see the world from their point of view. In a nutshell, reading fiction seems to improve your social skills and might even change your personality, positively. Neuroscience is also proving that reading fiction is one of the most powerful means of developing empathetic individuals, with better social skills and higher levels of self-esteem.
The science is fascinating and provides much food for thought. We have always thought that being ‘well read’ makes people more interesting and better company. However, it is clear that literary fiction affects us in a far deeper way. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that the same regions of the brain are activated when reading a story as in a real life situation. The act of reading a story allows us to live it and therefore we are literally being improved as people, whilst we read! I don’t think that there is anything else that can compete with that.
Put simply reading fiction allows us to identify with the characters’ hopes and dreams, their frustrations, their motives, their ups and downs and so much more. We truly do experience the emotions of those individuals. In effect, we are able to practice for real life whilst immersed in a book.
What we model at home is so important to our children. They will learn from what we do. It is a challenge but I wonder when the last time was that your children saw you reading a fiction book? So I hope that you will take up the challenge like me, find a good book and rather than watch that next Netflix series, you might read a few pages. The evidence is quite clear – reading is good for our children and actually enhances their life chances. Let’s make sure that we do all we can to encourage them on such an important journey.