some readings about readers

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assumptions about readers that I hadn’t totally realized were common (“people who read a lot of fiction are socially withdrawn bookworms who use novels as an escape from reality”), and then debunking them.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.

—Anna