I received an email today that had the subject line: Does Reading Matter?
And I got all hot and bothered about it because yes, of course reading matters. It matters a lot. Trust me, I haz opinions on this subject.
Turns out, the email’s author has opinions on the matter too, and sent me a lovely article outlining them. It’s well worth your time, with some fresh reading recommendations in there, to keep you occupied while I gather my own feverishly opinionated post together.
(First, feast your eyes on this photo of Cass reading back in 2011, when she was 7. Be still my beating heart; where’d my little girl go?)
Does Reading Matter?
By Chantal Jauvin
With April upon us, thousands of families are starting to negotiate what they will do for their summer vacations. The stakes are high: Wi-Fi or not? Together or separately? Away camps or day camps? Parents, children, couples, relatives and friends, vying to create their perfect version of a summer holiday.
The choices have multiplied to such an extent that the option of simply dropping by the local library to pick up a stack of books for the cottage, the park or the backyard seems a distant memory. People bemoan their lack of time to read. The reasons are endless: work, chauffeuring the kids, barely enough time for yoga, tax season, too much time looking at the computer screen, and the new season of House of Cards. In other words, life gets in the way of reading.
So, why do we shortchange our reading time? Does reading still matter?
Most people would agree that being able to read matters. Yet as many as 32 million adults in the U.S. cannot, according to the U.S. Department of Education figures from December 2015. But there is an even more alarming statistic: 19% of high school students graduate without being able to read. These statistics raise some alarming questions: Do we have enough jobs to employ so many illiterate people? Will those jobs pay sufficiently to keep them out of poverty?
If we stretch our vision to look at the state of global literacy, the same research found that 775 million people around the world cannot read. Because some cultures still place less value on girl’s formal education while their brothers are encouraged to attend school, females account for 66% of that number. Whether at home or abroad, the ramifications of illiteracy are obvious: poverty, social exclusion and limited access to medical care.
The statistics can be argued with, reframed or countered. The simple fact remains: illiteracy severely limits quality of life both in economic terms and in the possibilities of enjoyment. Parents, advocates, government officials, students may not agree on how to fix the problem, but everyone agrees that the ability to read beyond a basic level is crucial.
Americans spend 2 hours and 46 minutes out of each day watching television. Young adults between the ages of 15 and 19 spend only 4.2 minutes per day reading during weekends and holidays (excluding homework-related reading). Reading habits increase only marginally later in life. Americans ages 45 to 54 engage in leisure reading only 26.4 minutes a day, (American Time Use Survey, 2013).
If we agree about the importance of reading, why do spend so little time enjoying it? The reasons vary by person, but perhaps the root cause has more to do with our cost-benefit analysis of the use of our time. A regular workout regime, say 3 times a week, 45 minutes each session, provides a tangible result. Reading’s benefits are less obvious.
Huffington Post has taken a look at the science behind reading and offers us concrete reasons to read more often. “6 Science-Backed Reasons to Go Read a Book Right Now” include:
Stress reduction: It takes only 6 minutes of reading to begin lowering your stress level.
Longer-lasting memory function: People who start to read early and continue to do so throughout their lives experience slower memory decline.
Better sleep: Sleep experts recommend reading before bed to improve the quality of sleep.
Science aside, there are some other compelling reasons to read more often.
1. To learn from history.
Reading historical fiction provides insights into our past. Reading about Queen Isabella’s rule in Spain through the eyes of author C.W. Gortner in The Queen’s Vow provides a compelling way to understand the events and personalities who ruled this country in this period.
2. To prepare for action.
In this age of instant gratification, books are our 24-hour-a-day teachers. They are available to help us plan a trip, learn a new skill or face a personal challenge. They provide privacy to test ourselves by taking self-help quizzes or improving the way we face life. Consider Amy Cuddy’s new book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.
3. To boost imagination and creativity.
A book can provide a different perspective on life. Lee Miller: A Life by Carolyn Burke challenges the reader to see the world through the lens and life of a talented photographer. People who suffer from isolation often find solace when they encounter a character who shares their values and experiences. This affirmation validates their views and often spurs their creativity.
4. To increase our empathy.
Our world faces constant challenges requiring us to empathize with people facing situations we ourselves have not encountered. That Bird Has My Wings by Jarvis Jay Masters depicts the journey of a man on death row. Books bridge the gap between situations unknown to us and universal themes of our human condition: struggles with faith, self-forgiveness and judgment of others.
5. To be a responsible citizen of the world.
Margaret Atwood explains this best: “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.”
It’s always the right time to do something good for your health, your mind, your soul. But summer is an especially opportune occasion, which provides us more open space in our lives. Fill that space with something that matters; have a summer fling with reading, and see where it goes.
Chantal Jauvin is an international attorney who has combined her passion for experiencing other cultures with her pursuit of a global legal career. She has lived in Japan, Mexico, Cambodia, Russia, Austria, taking shorter assignments in Vietnam while pursuing her MBA studies in the UK. She has negotiated in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo often enough to almost call these cities home. Igniting her lifelong enthusiasm for language and other societies, she has turned her attention to writing in her quest to understand how our souls are touched by the blended world in which we live. Jauvin currently resides with her husband in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her new book The Boy with a Bamboo Heart tells the story of a street orphan who created a children’s charity called FORDEC. The book can be purchased on Amazon and ChantalJauvin.com
My favorite gifts for young kids and baby showers (and really most other gift giving occasions, if I’m being honest) are books. The classics, to be sure, but I also try to rustle up some new titles that I think the recipient is unlikely to receive from any other quarter.
My First Science Textbooks are chemistry storybooks for the very young, written by a chemistry teacher with his two-year-old daughter in mind.
I love love love this.
Book I: Protons and Neutrons
Book II: Electrons
Book III: The Atom
My First Chemistry Textbooks are hardcover children’s books, each with 32 or more full color paper pages. Our goal is to add a few additional workbook pages at the end of the books so adults and kids can play, interact and discuss the content covered throughout the books.
This is at the Kickstarter stage at the moment, but it fully funded within 8 hours! The initial fundraising goal was $4500 and they’re close to $100,000 now. Which is AMAZING.
For $35, you can reserve one copy each of the three books in the series plus access to the E-book versions. For $36 you get them in board book form.
For $65, you get one each in hardback form and one each in board book form. Think of it as the “grow with me” edition.
For $100, you get FOUR board book copies of each title plus access to the E-book versions, so you can donate to your classroom or library AND give away copies at your next baby shower or little kid birthday.
There are other donation levels available, those are just my favorites.
Today’s National Walking Day. It’s also April Fool’s Day, which is a holiday that I think should be taken out to the barn and shot, but never mind about that. Here in southeastern PA today is gloriously sunny and in the low 70s; temps are forecasted to retreat into the 40s this weekend with a possibility of snow (SNOW!). There’s never been a better day for a nice, brisk walk.
Here, I present unto you the health benefits of walking and most pressing reasons to put on some pants and get outside:
Walking gets your blood flowing.
A recent Ball State study found that Americans generally spend 64% of waking hours in a sedentary position. Now, granted, Americans also don’t get enough sleep, so there’s not a lot of not-waking hours, but it’s still a sobering statistic. Even if you’re going to the gym after work every day for an hour of exercise, that isn’t enough to counteract the adverse effects of sitting all day long. While in a seated position, your lungs aren’t expanding fully, your circulation is compromised (it’s even worse if you have bad posture) and therefore the amount of oxygen being moved throughout your body is lessened. This means physical weakening and mental fuzziness.
Whenever you get the opportunity throughout the day, you should get up and walk around, stretch, do something to get that blood flowing to rejuvenate your mind and body.
You’ll live longer.
Physical activity lengthens our telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that are tied to aging and stress. On the flip side, a sedentary lifestyle is connected to increased mortality rates, from reasons spanning from colon and breast cancer (one study indicated those who were inactive were 40% more likely to die from their cancers) to insulin resistance to stroke and heart attack.
You’ll feel better.
Sedentary people are more likely to be depressed, although it’s hard to say whether being inactive leads to depression or if those who are depressed are less inclined to be active. However, there’s a good body of evidence showing that the endorphins produced from exercise helps to lift spirits, and that being out in nature lowers blood levels in the parts of the brain associated with rumination. In other words, going outside for a walk forces you out of your own head so that you’re not dwelling on the negative; in fact it can instead bring on a meditative state with all its positive effects.
You’ll be more creative.
Walking exposes us to new stimuli and allows our minds to wander: these unfettered thought and associations are the perfect prescription for creativity. Meanwhile, the exercise distracts the prefrontal cortex (right brain thinking) letting the left side of the brain take over a bit, plus it increases that blood flow to the brain, enlarging the hippocampus (which moves information from short-term to long-term memory). One Stanford study found that walking increased creative output by 60%!
You’ll probably lose weight over time.
For those who are currently sedentary or aren’t already committed to a weight loss regime, walking is a great place to start. It’s easy on the joints. It doesn’t involve any special equipment, upfront costs or new skills. It’s low pressure and not as intimidating as walking into a weight room or Zumba class. And for most people, it’s sustainable because it’s enjoyable: a chance to get out into the open air, bask in the sunshine, catch up with a friend.
If just walking doesn’t feel like a significant enough form of exercise to make a difference, consider this: for those with obesity who are trying to lose weight, the greatest health benefits come from losing just 5 percent of their body weight: according to a new study, that relatively small weight loss notably lowered risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It also improved metabolic function in liver, fat and muscle tissue.
To get the most weight loss benefits from walking, you’ll want to keep the pace brisk and heart rate elevated. Also, try walking immediately after meals— it helps to slow digestion and improve your circadian rhythyms (messed up circadian rhythms can make it more difficult for your body to let go of fat). And yes, you will need to look at your calorie intake. All the walking in the world can’t overrule basic math.
It’s just nice.
I know it’s so much easier to stay where you are. But going for a walk is such a simple pleasure. Why deprive yourself of that, especially when it’s so good for you?
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
― Neil Gaiman
God, I love Neil Gaiman.
He breaks my heart, in a beautiful way. He makes me want to write, to create, to populate new worlds with starlight and yearning and well dressed woodland creatures and dusty whispers from worlds gone by. At the same time, every time I read anything of his, I am so deeply aware that nothing I’d put to paper would ever come close to touching how gorgeous his darkness is that I give up before I’ve begun.
That said, these are things that Neil has wished for us, his readers, over the years. Two weeks into the new year, I’m somehow more ready to let them land.
Write them on your mirror, hang them on your heart… do what you need to remind yourself to make all the mistakes, to put something out there into the world that only you could ever contribute.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.
So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.
And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.
So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.
Be kind to yourself in the year ahead.
Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.
Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.
Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.
Robin Elton is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.