Scientifically speaking, reading is a complex set of cognitive processes which allows the reader to decode a series of symbols at a rapid rate to generate meaning. The ability to read is a kind of mental alchemy, allowing us to turn abstract images into stories, information and knowledge. Reading effects how our brains work and cognitive neuroscientists continue to study this phenomenon. Research has shown that brain activity in children can be used to predict their reading ability in later life; that reading for pleasure can improve vocabulary as well as performance in mathematics. Reading has also been shown to be one of a number of activities that can reduce cognitive decline in old age.
Socially speaking, reading is a transformative skill, opening pathways via education to many other aspects of our lives. Early reading skills are being shown to be predictive for future educational success. A US study has shown that a child who cannot read proficiently by the third grade in school is four times more likely not to graduate from high school, and if that child is affected by poverty, it increases to 13 times more likely not to graduate. Whilst the internet myth that prison planners use reading rates to predict future prison growth isn’t true – analysis in the US has shown that that is a plausible link between children not reading proficiently and their risk of future incarceration increasing.
But for those who love to read, reading is more that just about our brains and society, reading is magical. Reading opens our lives and shows us new worlds, new ideas, new ways of thinking. Both fiction and non-fiction reading can be a transformational experience, and a very addictive one at that. As Neil Gaiman said in his now famous Reading Agency speech:
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.
For the next two weeks will be exploring how libraries can inspire life-long readers and create readers for life and will be featuring programs from around the world that seek to do just that.
- Do you love to read? Why or why not?
- What is your earliest reading memory?
- Have you ever taken part in a reading program or book group?
- Has your library (the one you work in or perhaps your local library) ever run a reading program? How did it go?