Don’t let those couch potatoes do all of the world-saving by themselves. Yeah, I know, they can watch for hours on end, but you need to get your ass in gear and keep reading! Introverts, book nerds, socially awkward humans – whatever you want to call yourselves – I think we already knew this, but we we will win this quarantine. And nobody can do it better, not even those TV heads. We have been preparing for this for years. For readers, it’s our time to shine guys.
They first told us to practice social distancing, and we were like, “yasss, finally!”
Then they told us to isolate, we said, “we already are.”
Restaurants aren’t open, so go ahead and do a curbside pick up – you got this! But first, let me see how tall I can stack these Books.
Hmmm, I can’t go to the mall, I guess I’ll just have to order online. *Makes a pot of coffee for the endless clicking, mundane searches and e-buying.
No more sports games in the background, even better!
It’s just you and that stack of books that you have been putting off… or adding to it, so it never really gets lower.
What have you been able to accomplish during this quarantine that you may not have normally been able to accomplish?
Every day more than 1.8 million books are sold in the US. Despite all the other easy distractions available to us today, there’s no doubt that many people still love reading. Books can teach us plenty about the world, of course, as well as improving our vocabularies and writing skills. But can fiction also make us better people?
Characters hook us into stories. Aristotle said that when we watch a tragedy two emotions predominate: pity (for the character) and fear (for yourself). Without necessarily even noticing, we imagine what it’s like to be them and compare their reactions to situations with how we responded in the past, or imagine we might in the future. Be an epic reader!
If You Don’t Use it You Lose it
This exercise in perspective-taking is like a training course in understanding others. The Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley calls fiction “the mind’s flight simulator”. Just as pilots can practice flying without leaving the ground, people who read fiction may improve their social skills each time they open a novel. In his research, he has found that as we begin to identify with the characters, we start to consider their goals and desires instead of our own. When they are in danger, our hearts start to race. We might even gasp. But we read with luxury of knowing that none of this is happening to us. We don’t wet ourselves with terror or jump out of windows to escape.
Having said that, some of the neural mechanisms the brain uses to make sense of narratives in stories do share similarities with those used in real-life situations. Reading the word “kick”, for example, areas of the brain related to physically kicking are activated. If we read that a character pulled a light cord, activity increases in the region of the brain associated with grasping. Even if it’s an eReader versus a paperback book!
With all this practice in empathizing with other people through reading, you think it would be possible to demonstrate that those who read fiction have better social skills than those who read mostly non-fiction or don’t read at all.
The difficulty with conducting this kind of research is that many of us have a tendency to exaggerate the number of books we’ve read. To get around this, Oatley and colleagues gave students a list of fiction and non-fiction writers and asked them to indicate which writers they had heard of. They warned them that a few fake names had been thrown in to check they weren’t lying. The number of writers people have heard of turns out to be a good proxy for how much they actually read.
We have some fiction horror as well as non-fiction being available as an eBook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and Kobo.
The Neuroscience Behind Reading
Next, Oatley’s team gives people the “Mind in the Eyes” test, where you are given a series of photographs of pairs of eyes. From the eyes and surrounding skin alone, your task is to divine which emotion a person is feeling. You are given a short list of options like shy, guilty, daydreaming or worried. The expressions are subtle and at first glance might appear neutral, so it’s harder than it sounds. But those deemed to have read more fiction than non-fiction scored higher on this test – as well as on a scale measuring interpersonal sensitivity.
At the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, psychologist Diana Tamir has demonstrated that people who often read fiction have better social cognition. In other words, they’re more skilled at working out what other people are thinking and feeling. Using brain scans, she has found that while reading fiction, there is more activity in parts of the default mode network of the brain that are involved in simulating what other people are thinking.
So the research shows that perhaps reading fiction does make people behave better. Certainly some institutions consider the effects of reading to be so significant that they now include modules on literature. At the University of California Irvine, for example, Johanna Shapiro from the Department of Family Medicine firmly believes that reading fiction results in better doctors and has led the establishment of a humanities programme to train medical students.
It sounds as though it’s time to lose the stereotype of the shy bookworm whose nose is always in a book because they find it difficult to deal with real people. In fact, these bookworms might be better than everyone else at understanding human beings.
Is your state still on shut down? Kids still out of school? Many libraries, museums and organizations are offering some of their content for free online. Here are just 7 digital libraries you can visit from the comfort of your own home.
Digital Public Library of America Digital Library
The DPLA is an online collection of over 36 million free digital materials from libraries, archives and museums. Its digital exhibitions and primary sources cover everything from the 1918 influenza pandemic to the golden age of comic books.
Nautical Archaeology Digital Library
If you’re fascinated by shipwrecks, the Nautical Archaeology Digital Library has you covered. The library, a collaboration of Texas A&M University and ShipLAB, contains searchable shipwreck databases and ancient ship models.
It turns out that Elvis Presley’s reading list that was very into spiritual readings, Taoism, esoteric philosophies and learning about the different values in different cultures. When Elvis died in his Graceland bathroom thirty years ago today, he is said to have been reading a book about the Holy Shroud of Turin – normally identified as A Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus (1972) by Frank O. Adams, which argues that the Turin Shroud really is Our Lord’s Shroud. It has since become eagerly sought after by Elvis fans. Less impressive is the other book he was allegedly reading – Sex and Psychic Energy. Hmmmm, we better move quickly along.
These titles represent some of the books mentioned in his 1989 book If I Can Dream: Elvis’ Own Story (now out-of-print). We cannot be sure that Elvis Presley read all of these books, but they concern subjects he was deeply interested in and felt were important to his daily life.
Elvis Presley’s Reading List
The Impersonal Life [written anonymously] is described as Elvis’ favorite book next to the Bible and the one whose “teaching, practice and discipline transformed his life.”
On Elvis’s bedside table in 1960 was The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and How to Live 365 Days a Year by Dr. John A. Schindler. He often read medical texts and was so well-versed in The Physician’s Desk Reference that he more than held his own when talking to medical professionals about prescription drugs.
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Elvis Presley’s Book Collection
The king also had an eclectic taste. Elvis Presley’s reading list purchases in 1963 include the following unique collection: Antique Guns, Eyewitness History of World War II, First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration, Guns, Joke Dictionary, Jokes for the John, World Atlas, Our Fifty States, East of Eden, Strange People, and