I was in love with reading before I even knew how. I started at an early age and it was how I spent the majority of my free time as a kid. My family often made comments about always finding me with my nose in a book. As a kid, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and E.B. White were some of my favorite authors. I also enjoyed classic kid mysteries like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. In the summer, I stayed with my aunt and uncle on their farm and we would venture to the library every two weeks. I would fly through my stack of books before the first week was even up. My aunt would say, “You’ll just have to read them again.”
One year my English teacher suggested that I read The Lord of the Rings over my summer break. It didn’t seem like my kind of book, but I launched into it and fell in love. When I finished, I just kept reading it over and over. I was completely caught up in the adventure.
At the time I had no idea that all of that reading was working to build my vocabulary and enhance my language skills. Today, this information is fairly well known, but studies have shown that reading actually stimulates the brain in many other ways. Reading literature on a regular basis engages the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Research has also shown that reading narrative fiction not only activates the language centers of the brain, its descriptive language stimulates other sensory areas. When you read about smells, tastes, sights, etc., those areas in the brain light up during fMRI scanning as if you were experiencing them first hand.
Stories can also help us navigate the intricacies of social interaction. When we get caught up in the lives of the characters we read about, the brain doesn’t make huge distinctions between what’s happening in real life and what we are reading about. Keying into the complex situations of these characters and thinking about what course they should take acts as a simulation. It gives us the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of decisions and envision the possible outcomes. Who knew that reading fiction could help with problem solving and life skills?
So whether you are reading prize-winning literature or fun, fast-paced fantasy, celebrate Get Caught Reading Month and give your brain a workout.