Friday, 3 May 2013

Why is reading fiction valuable?

by Maria Nikolajeva

People who work with books, reading and literacy have always known that reading fiction is good for you. With the recent development of brain research, we now have hard facts to prove that reading fiction is not merely a pleasurable, yet meaningless pastime, but is crucial for our survival as individuals and as a species. Storytelling is our way of understanding the world, other people and ourselves. Reading fiction stimulates attention, imagination, memory, empathy – brain functions indispensable or our cognitive, social and emotional development. 
In the age when the value of deep reading is questioned, when libraries and schools invest in computers and tablets rather than books, when the books themselves undergo a medial transformation from print to digital, it is all the more important to consider what reading does to us. There are alarming reports about irreparable changes in our brains inflicted by our engagement with information. We tend to get shorter attention span; as a result, young people have difficulties reading books with slow pace, long, compound sentences, and a large number of characters; writers and publishers adapt their products accordingly. Our semantic memory is deteriorating since factual information is easily available to us with one click on an electronic device. We supplant our real-life experiences with virtual ones, especially through social media, thus decreasing our social skills. 
On the other hand, recent statistics show that the massive advance of electronic reading devices has had a positive impact on reading: on the average, we read more today than ten years ago, and sales of electronic books in some countries have caught up and even surpassed the printed book. 
A recent newspaper publication in the USA caused a storm of debates when an arrogant mother stated that reading picturebooks would not take her three-year-old to Harvard. The mother was wrong: reading baby books, picturebooks, comics, chapter books, and novels will potentially take young people to Harvard and beyond, toward the Nobel Prize. Reading fiction is a matter of social justice. Reading fiction is the best investment parents and educators can offer the new generation. 
In this blog we will share our findings and insights from a project about reading fiction in the twenty-first century.

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