When I moved to the cathedral city of Worcester, England in 1975 from the tropics, I could not speak a word of English. My dad on the first day of school handed me over to my teacher and left me to either sink or swim - I was one month shy of my sixth birthday. I was the only non-English speaking child in the school and I swam. With the help of my teachers, I read 'Peter and Jane' books who with their dog Pat were my guides into the world of reading and the English language. Unbeknownst to me, this was to be the start of a journey into worlds of imaginable adventure, escapades and words that would colour my speaking skills for life. The world of reading in English had just begun.
As I advanced through more and more books my young brain was beginning to use the English language to create the worlds that unfolded in front of me, page by page. I graduated onto Enid Blyton's 'Famous Five' books immersing myself in the school holiday adventures the five young protagonists would get up to before returning to their boarding schools.
When I discovered comics such as Dandy, Beano and Buster, the colourful and comical characters gave a new dimension to my story reading. Then I came across the classics of my childhood, namely Herge's Adventures of Tintin, Asterix and Obelix among many others.
My first heavy hitter was reading The Hobbit in my early teens. I picked it up for a reading assignment in my English class at secondary school in London. It was a moment of epiphany. I had not come across this genre of books and it literally blew my mind away. Of course, you can surely understand why this would be the case? Here I was a thirteen year old in an inner city school and had discovered stories about dragons, warlocks, swords and sorcery what more could I ask. To say I was hooked would be an understatement. I devoured the book twice over. My mind created my own version of Middle Earth. My interaction with the characters was personal, I became their companion, I imagined the battle with the Orcs and laughing at the exploits of Thoren Oakenshield and his companions.
I swiftly moved on to The Lord of the Rings, again I read the three books twice I believe if not thrice. Throughout school, I enjoyed other fantasy novels such as Terry Brooks The Shannara Trilogy and David Eddings The Belgariad Saga. Sadly, the world my mind created whilst reading the Tolkien's classics was not done justice by the movies. A movie simply cannot create the personal bond you have with a story and so many crucial parts of any story are simply excluded from a motion picture.
During school, I loved history classes and geography. Even though these were textbooks for learning, by reading I was able to transport myself to the courts of King Henry VIII of England and fly through the Norwegian glacial ravines in my mind's eye during geography. A book can simply transport to wherever the story leads.
For me, reading is simply Brain Food. Reading opens up doors into worlds one would not even dream about. If you cannot travel read about a place. If you want to emulate someone successful read their biography. If you want to learn a new skill or a language then read. I am a bit old school as I love the feel and smell of opening a printed book, of holding it, of bookmarking it then putting it up on my bookshelf for reference and posterity.
Why do I say reading is Brain Food? Well, there is science backing the benefits of reading. I love the following quote by Dr. Suess,
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."
Need I say more other than highlighting some key benefits of reading as backed up by scientific research.
- It Increases Intelligence: When children read at a young age they are exposed to 50% more words that television, according to research by the University of California. This leads to higher scores on reading tests and general intelligence tests. Reading on a screen is said to slow you down 20% to 30%. So ditch the Kindle and get a printed copy.
- It can Boost Brain Power: Just like when you go to the gym or a jog your lungs, heart and muscles get a workout making them stronger, reading does likewise for the old grey matter. Age brings about a decline in mental acuity, reading is one exercise that can fend off the ravages of age by helping you stay alert and sharp.
- Reading Can Make You More Empathetic: Reading fiction helps us understand the dilemma and struggles of others. It helps us to experience the emotions that drive characters and a story, which can be related to real life events and drama. Reading fiction has a greater effect on empathy than non-fiction.
- Better Comprehension and Understanding: Reading a printed book, flipping through the pages, going back and forth is said to help to learn better and understand a topic easier. Notes in the margin, underlining a quote are powerful tools to help us learn.
- May Help Fight Alzheimer's Disease: The act of reading makes your brain work. Those who read, play chess and other puzzles may be 2.5 times less likely to develop the disease.
- Can Help You to Relax: A study conducted by the Sussex University in 2009 found that reading reduces stress by up to 68%.
- Reading Before Bed Helps You Sleep: If you create a nightly ritual of reading before bedtime, you send signals to your body that it is time to wind down and go to sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Screens even those of e-readers can hurt your sleep. Even children are affected by screens. According to Pediatrics publication, 54% of children sleep near a small screen, which causes 20 minutes less sleep time on average for kids.
There you have it, even on CNN a few nights ago in late April, the media doctor Sanjay Gupta was extolling the virtues and benefits of reading and what it does for our health.
I will remain old school and continue to buy printed books and expand my personal library. At the moment I am reading maybe a book a month, sometimes it lessens but I always pack a book in my hand luggage when I am out travelling for work or leisure.
Happy reading everyone.