Two blog posts in one week! I know, I know, it’s unheard of, but I just came across this article on “Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With” and it got me to that philosophical frame of mind again, which demands I share my thoughts. So here they are:
First off, I need to disclaim that I am greatly biased in my opinions, as I myself am a reader, so the idea of being better than others in a meaningful way, as this article suggests, appeals to me quite a bit. 😉 Does that make me a bad person? lol
Okay, moving on to the wisdom part. The article makes a distinction between regular reading and “deep reading.” It says deep reading is a dying art in this age of having so much to do we require shorthand and gifs to keep up. It is a good distinction to make, and I do agree on some level. I know many readers who read for no other reason than to pass time. They do it as an act of moving their eyes over the words, and when they finish a book, they leave it behind and move on, having taken nothing out of it. You recognize them right away, because when you ask them, “So, how’s the book?” they answer, “It’s fine.” As someone who’s passionate about stories, this kind of answer frustrates me to no end.
But here’s where I disagree: I think there are three types of readers, not two, and let me tell you why. Let’s put the Hobby readers who don’t get in any way attached to their books aside for a moment. They’re in the first category, with which I completely agree. The second category would be Deep readers.
Deep reading, to my way of thinking, means analyzing the meaning of each word and appreciating the nuance of diction, flow, and the artistry of prose. It’s reading Shakespeare and tasting the rhythm on your tongue, but for all you care, you could be reading a sonnet or the newspaper sports section–it makes no difference.
What the author of the article is referring to as “deep reading” I think should be called Empathic reading. That’s what happens when you truly feel with the characters; feel yourself as part of the story and experience that sensation of hazy transition from one world to another when you finish a book. That kind of reading requires more than just an appreciation of the language–it requires a great deal of empathy and imagination. You read for the story, not the words. You read because you want to spend time in a different world, as a different person. This is the kind of reading that gives you an appreciation for life, philosophies, and cultures. If a Deep reader is the intellectual, an Empathic reader is the dreamer and philosopher.
And here is the trickiest point of debate: Nature vs. Nurture. Are we born with this level of empathy, and nurture it through reading, or does reading awaken and develop it inside us? Taking myself and a someone else (who will not be named) as an example, I am inclined to believe Nature plays the bigger part. Both of us have grown up with books from a very young age, but I grew up into an emphatic reader, while the other person became a hobby reader. I’ve read many accounts of people “discovering” the joy of reading later in life when they’d had no interest in it in childhood, and finding themselves drawn into the stories without any “training” early on.
I don’t think reading makes us more emphathetic or intuitive. I think it merely speaks to and satisfies that part of us in a personal, meaningful way, whether we come to it at age 4 or 40.
Does reading make us smarter? Undoubtedly! It has been scientifically documented that reading a book raises your neural activity for a week afterward. But does it make us better people? I’m not so sure.
What do you think?