Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Read

So far in October:
The Forever Bridge, T. Greenwood  (Great)
Grace, T. Greenwood  (Very Good)
The Cellar, Minette Walters  (Good)
The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel  (Excellent)
Forgive Me, Daniel Palmer  (OK)
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood  (WOW)

Now for the sad news indeed:
14% of adults can't read.
50% of adults are unable to read on an 8th grade level.
28% of adults haven't read a book in the last year.
33% of high school grads will never read a book after high school.
42% of college students will never read another book after graduation.
80% of US families will not buy a book this year from a bookstore or as a download on an electronic device.
(Statistics are from various sources, 2013 - 2016.)

But . . . here's what else I learned while I researched those sad statistics.

Just six minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68%. That alone is worth the effort to learn to read. If that isn't enough encouragement, reading keeps the brain functioning effectively, and studies suggest that elderly people who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimers. Reading stimulates memory, analytical skills, focus, and concentration. Reading before bed has also been shown to improve sleep.

The list of benefits goes on. Mental stimulation, knowledge of . . . well, of anything. Other people, other places, other planets. Aliens. Expanding vocabulary. (I was so proud of myself when I learned the word naive.) Empathy, understanding, and relating to others. Writing skills -- a personal favorite benefit -- are improved, and you become more articulate.

The books listed above that I have read this month are all fiction. I read and do research for articles in non-fiction genres, also, of course, and I spend a lot of time reading health publications, children's magazines, general interest publications, and especially books about writing as a profession. But my passion is fiction. There are those who would argue that I can't learn anything reading stories. Really? The Forever Bridge explained much about the conditions of paranoia and agoraphobia. Grace told me things about living in Vermont that I didn't know, pretty much drawing me a map of that Green Mountain State and its people. The Cellar introduced me to the lifestyle of Somalian citizens living and working in the United States, an eye-opener. The Summer that Melted Everything gave me pinpoint insight into the racism and superstitions of small town society, and brought back memories of the music and culture of the eighties. From Forgive Me I learned a great deal about private investigators, human trafficking, The US Marshall Service, and the way the FBI investigates kidnapping. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things put me right in the middle of how meth is manufactured and its devastating effects on everyone, especially children. It also introduced me to some of the people who wear leather and ride motorcycles and how people are, in the end, simply people. And it was a hell of a love story.  

We've become a visual society, but I don't believe that a picture is always worth a thousand words. Sure, I can look at a picture of a gray sky and my mind acknowledges it as "a gray sky" and I assume it's going to rain. But I can read the words "a churning gray sea of a sky" and know for sure it's going to storm.

The worst problem, of course, for those folks who don't try to learn to read, or those who actually can't read, is that the world can be a confusing place. There are circumstances when a person must be able to read travel directions, how to take medications, understand insurance policies, contracts and other legal papers. And unfortunately, for those who don't think reading is important, their children suffer for it, in school and in life. There are very few high-paying jobs for people who think reading isn't important.

I can't imagine a day without reading. Not one day.

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