We all recognize, I think, that reading a book is good for you. But I expect we mostly think the goodness resides in discovering new things, experiencing new emotions, and that sort of indirect benefit. But it turns out it’s good for your health too. BBC Culture explains how it is you can read yourself happy, and happy is healthy. “As author Jane Smiley confides in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, ‘Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book’.” This may be laying it on a bit thick, but the word “book” does carry a positive resonance for us all I think. For me it conjures up an image of David Livingstone reading away by candle light, intent on self-improvement. This vision comes accompanied by a special smell — “bookish” to me, but like all smells ultimately unspecifiable. The image and the smell both seem to come from my early school days.

Evidence for the straight-on health benefits of reading seems weakish though. Might it not be going too far to state as they do in “Reading is good for your health” at Science Daily that “People with poor reading skills are likely to be less healthy than those who read easily, according to recent research. Literacy skills are important for keeping in good shape”? I expect that poor health and poor literacy are positively correlated with being poor in general. I’d rather conclude that both are effects of poverty than that one is caused by the other. A similarly titled article from Science 2.0 quotes ex-Scotland rugby international and Strictly Come Dancing star Kenny Logan: “I left school at 16 not being able to read or write. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I decided to do something about it. I went through a program for dyslexia and after several months of hard work, I managed to transform my reading skills and learning ability. Being able to read has made such a massive difference to my life.” But just a minute, he was hardly an abject failure as a young man. Playing rugby for Scotland (which I assume he did before age 30) would certainly have made a massive difference to my life. I suspect Kenny was pretty healthy even before he could read — after all you’ve got to move it on Strictly Come Dancing. But of course we should be glad he has made the transition from non-reader to reader, and hope his example inspires others. I guess it was probably unrealistic to hope for evidence that by reading more I can get fewer colds. At least reading will make the cold-having seem less boring.

It turns out that not only is reading good for you; so too is writing. The New York Times has a story on 20 January, “Writing Your Way to Happiness”. Writing a personal narrative has apparently been found to reduce symptoms in cancer patients, among other good effects. This important news has probably been suppressed in the past. After all, if all you have to do to get rid of the blues is read a book, or write a little personal journal, how are the shrinks going to stay in business? Of course writing your story might ultimately be seen as little different from telling it orally while stretched out on a couch. Writing as therapy is used more widely than in psychotherapy only: this piece from KERA tells of poetry workshops with dementia patients (via The Passive Voice).

On the other hand here’s news from TechCrunch that Facebook can depress you. Can’t be the right sort of reading.

 

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