THE BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ -
AND WHY YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ THEM
SO, WHICH BOOKS SHOULD YOU READ?
CATCH-22? 1984? ANIMAL FARM? THE HOBBIT? ON THE ROAD?
WHICH WRITERS SHOULD YOU INDULGE IN?
HEMINGWAY? FROST? ROWLING? KING? GATES? FERRIS? SHAKESPEARE?
My answer would be all of them. Or none of them. Or some of them. Just read. There are those in this community who would look down on you for reading certain novels and eschewing others. To me, the act of reading itself is a wondrous thing. I do find Shakespeare funny, and I have a 110 year book by Oscar Wilde that has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read, so I can definitely be pretentious at times. But my all time favourite book is about a guy with a special power that makes him a bad-ass swordsman, and him and his buddies travel around fucking shit up. What I’m saying is if you enjoy a book, then read it.
(Then tell me about it because I might enjoy it too!)
There are so many benefits to reading. I personally read for the story, for the escape. Fernando Pessoa once said “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” But books have offered me so much more than just a momentary respite from the stresses of modern living. From reading I’ve discovered some of my greatest passions, writing being chief among them. Reading has similarly reignited my love of learning, a love that I lost many years ago. Books taught me that I have power over my knowledge, I can mold it and shape my knowledge however I see fit and I’m not restrained by social and professional rules and standards and syllabuses designed for the masses.
But I get so much more from reading than just creative and educational freedom. Some books offer lessons, they shout at you, “SELF-HELP”, right from the cover, and the words themselves are designed to teach you lessons. But the simple act of reading is enough to improve your ability to converse eloquently and learn effectively.
In the paper What Reading Does for the Mind, written by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich, it is concluded that more reading experience over a period of time leads to an increased vocabulary and that reading novels exposes you to more words than television, magazines and even conversation.
Imagine, with your swollen vocabulary and dominion over the spoken word, being able to dish out insults as devastating as this one from Bill Shakespeare himself:
“I do desire that we may be better strangers.”
So, if you want to master the English language and rise above the peasants around you in the way that the great leader and orator Winston Churchill, or the great author F. Scott. Fitzgerald has, then read, and read often my friend.
But, again, there is more to reading than merely improving your wit and literary guile, there are health benefits, like a vegetable! Yes, you heard it here first, reading is like eating vegetables. (They’ll give me the bloody Nobel Peace Prize after this.)
When you read, your brain has to decode the words and interpret their meanings based on context within the sentence, the paragraph and the book as a whole. This cognitive stress exercises existing, and creates new, neuronal pathways, thus improving cognitive function and memory. Much the same way that if you put your muscles under stress by lifting weights, they adapt by becoming larger and stronger.
A study performed by The Department of Functional Brain Imaging at Tohoku University in Japan, found that daily mental training, in the form of basic reading problems, can significantly improve cognitive function.
It’s called Long-Term Potentiation (LTP), “a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity”.
Another study conducted by the Center of Neuropolicy at Emory University set out to determine whether reading a novel had any changes on the connectivity within the brain. Their results suggest that reading novels can “strengthen language processing regions” of the brain.
Essentially, reading makes your brain better at being a brain.
So to answer my initial question, “What books should you read?”, any of them. If you want a more powerful vocabulary, the ability to more efficiently absorb and understand information and gain more control over your memory, then read. Read as much as you can, read from as many different authors, genres and eras as you can. And remember, as Lemony Snicket once said, “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”