Have you ever been to the beach or on a week-long vacation with that book or books into which you’ve been dying to dive? Did you notice how your whole being seemed to be wrapped up into that experience of reading, how you were transported in a way that doesn’t happen when you’re home and handling all of the family and other issues and challenges that need attention?
Over this last summer, I was on a reading binge that I experience most summers. I read in the last couple of months books on various topics that included: the connection between the Jewish philosopher Spinoza and the Nazis (see the book review in the recent issue Franciscan Media’s Liberty + Vine); the Dreyfus affair that rocked 19th-century France; the roots of World War I; the invention of wireless, transcontinental radio by Marconi; and, a Grisham novel on baseball. I also had a chance to re-read Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water and Murray Bodo’s Francis: The Journey and the Dream.
I knew upon returning from vacation that my experience of being swept away by the texture of the words and stories of each of these books would not be something that I would be able to replicate when I was trying to fit in reading a couple of minutes here and there between household activities, work schedule and a too busy life.
I’ve always assumed that the difference had to do with the frame of mind I was in over the summer and the tranquility of a lakeside cottage.
But according to a brain imaging study still in process, the difference may have had little to do with that. In fact, according to research led by Michigan State University professor Natalie Phillips and a team from Stanford University, it may be all in my head – literally!
In initial findings, recently reported by National Public Radio, that came as a shock to the neuroscientific community, the difference between casual reading – reading on the fly, browsing, or distracted reading with an iPhone, computer or television on or in close contact – and sustained focused reading showed up not only in areas of the brain having to do with attention, but throughout the entire brain with effects on the whole body. The effects were seen in areas associated with pleasure, with movement and with touch, as if, according to Phillips, readers when reading were placing themselves within the story.
No wonder I have cherished those reading times, times which felt transformative. They were! If true, I and the millions of others who love to read don’t have wait for summer or other holidays for that special reading experience.
All that may be necessary are a comfortable chair, some free time jealously set aside for this most pleasurable of activities and the discipline to make the active choice to turn off any electronic devise other than for reading – be it computer, television, radio, iPod, iPad, cell, and/or land-line phone – and turn off, for a time, Twitter and Facebook accounts. The payoff is a fully engaged mind and body whisked away to a new world in a way that only books – be they print or electronic – can do.
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Photo top by Mary Carty.