I’ve run across a couple of readings this past month, celebrating readers (sort of).
The first was an article in Scientific American Mind magazine, titled “In the Mind of Others,” and subtitled “Reading fiction can strengthen your social ties and even change your personality.”
The article initially left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, seeming to say, “You know that weirdo that is always reading alone? They might not be as dumb as we all thought!” The intro to the article spends a bit of time describing insulting assumptions about readers that I hadn’t totally realized were common (“people who read a lot of fiction are socially withdrawn bookworms who use novels as an escape from reality”), and then debunking them.
After I got over my initial bristling, though there were some interesting accounts of the experiments themselves. One tests viewers’ abilities to recognize emotions from just photos of eyes, with the premise that fiction-readers are more empathetic to other people’s emotions and will thus get better results.
Over the holidays, my whole family took it (being a very quiz-happy group), including one nonfiction reader and one non-reader, and all six of us fell comfortably in the average zone, so our very small pool did not demonstrate significant results, but did make for an interesting hour as we all compared our results. (There was some extensive joking that men seemed to read almost all female expressions as “desiring” or “flirtatious.”)
The main conclusion I took from reading this article was that I am not partial to reading scientific articles. (The four-and-a-half page article took me three days to actually get through.)
The second reading, forwarded to me by a friend who had also sent it on to her son, was a blog entry. Called “A Girl You Should Date,” it cuts through all the scientific pedantry that I’d previously been struggling through in Scientific American Mind, to create a very poetic epistle celebrating female readers. I don’t agree with every single thing it says (I do not like to be asked what I’m reading while I’m currently engrossed in a book), but it makes me feel good about myself and I’m glad that it got put out there.
I wonder how reading compares to watching TV, in the case of the Scientific American article. Because for that one test, I think watching a season of Lie to Me had more of an effect than reading fiction for my whole life.
I really liked that second article. And, from the writer’s point of view as the mother of a son, I don’t think she cared if you wanted to be interrupted while reading or not, she wanted her son to grab your attention and start up a conversation anyway.
Well, the article specifically said that while increased empathy and emotional recognition was seen with exposure to both fiction books and movies, television shows did not have the same effect. I think they postulated that 30-60 minute increments was not enough to build the same attachment. But, yeah, I don’t know that they took “Lie to Me” into consideration.
Scientific American seems to want me to pay $7.95 for that article, so I haven’t read it. However, I will say that one of my biggest learning moments in recent years has been realizing that a few people in my life who don’t read–just really, as a rule, don’t read books–are still smart, cool, interesting people. Seriously, if someone didn’t read that used to really be a deal-breaker for me in terms of remaining close to that person. I’ve been forced to acknowledge that it’s not quite as clear-cut as that and that I was being fairly dumb about it.