Why Reading Matters

If you missed Why Reading Matters on BBC Four on Monday, you’re not too late to catch it: the programme is available to watch on BBC iplayer for the next five days.

The documentary, about the incredible power that reading unlocks in the brain,  features Philip Davis, editor of The Reader magazine, investigating the ‘Shakespeared Brain’ – how the shapes of Shakespeare’s lines and sentences effect our minds – and The Reader Organisation’s pioneering outreach project Get Into Reading.

5 thoughts on “Why Reading Matters”

  1. The right idea was there in the programme, but I felt it was poorly executed.

    I believe there were fundamental flaws in the neuroscience research. We come across words like ‘print’ and ‘candle’ a lot of the time, but the noun ‘god’ will surely always create some sort of stimulation in the brain, over the other two regardless.

    Evidentally there’s a lot of brain research which appears to suggest that reading really gives your brain a decent workout, but it’s empathising with the characters that counts. Your brain apparently lights up when it reads action words, as if you were taking part yourself, although the research is still in progress. So is fiction better than non-fiction? Most of the non-fiction I like is still storytelling, the characters just happen to be real. Does that count?

    And does that mean that miserable, disturbing things like Child called It, are actually good for you? Not in my dimension they’re not, brain research or no brain research.

    Further interesting discussion regarding the difference between interacting with a computer game and interacting with a book. I would happily do both, but Baroness Greenfield says otherwise. To paraphrase, Greenfield says, in a computer game you don’t care about the characters: reaching the end of the game is the whole point. With a book, you feel along with the characters whether you like them or not, and whether you agree with their actions or not.

    Writer and game designer, Naomi Alderman, disagreed with that, and mentioned a particular program (that I never caught the name of) and she says you can’t help empathising with the characters, in particular the sweet princess who apparently can’t do anything to help herself. Sorry, what’s the outdated concept here?

    Another problem, apparently, is blogging. Book sales are levelling off, and the bloggers are being blamed. Not sure how acceptable a conclusion that is to be honest. Or even how valuable a bit of data. I’ve seen a lot of information about books on blogs – people are obviously still reading.

    Unfortunately, the programme actually ended on a bit of a whimper. It pointed out that reading and writing were foundations of the world’s first civilisations, that printing helped shape the modern world, and that the journey continues. Reading habits may change, it said, but reading will remain key to a wider world, a bigger world, and maybe even transform lives. It sounds like the kind of lame I-need-to-finish-this-somehow-let’s-repeat-what-we-said-earlier ending you’ll find closing many essays. Thus speaks the voice of experience.

  2. Thank you, Sue. Unfortunately the programme (of which I was looking forward to watching) reminded me of sitting in on a third set gcse psychology class – with a very poor man’s Maureen Cleave leading the group

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *