There is no doubt about it, we are what we eat. But we are also all the books we read. As humans, we are made up of everything we experience in our lives. But also everything in every story we read, the characters, their battles, their majestic worlds define who we are.
Jorge Luis Borges said that paradise should be like a great and endless library. It’s an idyllic picture. Anyone who practices the healthy practice of reading on a daily basis will agree. Reading feeds us and gives us the opportunity to move forward, to learn and to be a little freer that way.
So when we say that people are every book they read, we’re not exaggerating. In that part of our minds where we keep our childhood memories, we also find the books that somehow draw a line in our lives between before and after. We will seldom experience so much intensity, joy and delight as when we read those books.
This early foray into the world of the imagination, into the forests of mystery and across the seas of adventure has been imprinted word by word and image after image in the deepest recesses of our brains. It largely defines who we are right now. For that reason, a large part of us is made up of things that we may never have seen with our own eyes but have felt with our hearts. They were journeys we made in our minds.
The books in your brain
The Journal of Business Administration published a study that confirmed some data that we all take for granted. Unfortunately they are not always. University students who have read since childhood have much higher scores in critical thinking, creativity, contemplation, metacognition, and written language skills. But what we see today is that our young people are reading but not “reading deeply .”
Deep reading is described as a feeling, a slow process in which we become completely immersed in what we read. There is no rush and no external pressure. It is the exceptional ability to ‘become one’ with the book and grasp the richness of the text. Deciphering words does something to us on a sensory and emotional level.
When we read deeply, we also grasp the details of the text. We enjoy the story and the ability of the writer. But this is the most interesting aspect. Experts explain how a certain way of reading triggers an amazing process in our brain: it synchronises. The parts of the brain that deal with speech, sight and hearing work together during deep reading.
- Broca’s center is responsible for the perception of rhythm and grammar. Deep reading activates this center in an intense way.
- Moreover, this form of reading activates Wernicke’s part of the brain. This center is connected with our perception of words and their meaning.
- The angular gyrus also experiences a greater interaction. This angular turn in the brain controls perception and language use.
During deep reading, we allow all these processes and many other sensations and emotions to arise that leave a lasting mark on our brains.
Books in a world of scattered minds
According to an interesting article published in The New York Times, adult book sales have fallen 10.3 percent in recent years. In the meantime, the number of children’s books sold has also fallen by 2.1 percent. Electronic book sales, in turn, have fallen much more, by nearly 21.8 percent. On the contrary, the number of digital audiobooks sold has increased by 35.3 percent. To our surprise, those sales are still going up.
So we prefer to ‘read the book to us’ rather than read the book ourselves. For psychologists, the reason behind this phenomenon is obvious. For our minds are scattered. We have to do so many things at once. Checking our cell phone, updating social media, drinking coffee, watching television, reading our emails…
But there’s another little detail that Stephen King pointed out recently. People have lost the joy of turning the pages of a book. Now we put it in our ears so that our hands are free to use our cell phone. This is probably why he wrote his novel Cell .
This explains why the sales of audiobooks have increased so much in recent months. Because they are perfect for multitasking. All you have to do is keep your ears pointed. That way you have your eyes and hands free to do several things at once. It seems ‘perfect’ but unfortunately it is sad.
We lose the pleasure of deep reading. Some of our children will be deprived of the pleasure of immersing themselves in a really tangible book in the traditional way: turning the pages, one at a time, in a large dusty library or in the intimate light under the covers.