Book Talk: If you’re lucky, you’ll get a book for Christmas
The more you read,
The more things you will know.
The more you learn,
The more places you’ll go.
— Dr. Seuss
A book is a wonderful gift. And if you get one this Christmas, you’re lucky. When you receive a book from a friend or relative, you know that the person thought about you, your likes and dislikes, your interests, and (perhaps without realizing it) your welfare.
Your welfare? Yes, because reading is good for you. I don’t think that we know all the ways in which reading enriches us; we just know that it does. And this is not “new knowledge.” One of the first public buildings that we had in our republic was a library. In colonial America, books were rare and expensive. But on July 1, 1731, Benjamin Franklin gathered a group, formed a “philosophical association,” drew up “Articles of Agreement” about acquiring and lending books to each other, and formed the first American library.
Initially, the library was private, meaning that one had to be a member of the association in order to borrow books. But ten years later, other cities formed their own libraries, and these were public. Anyone could borrow a book if he or she put up a “surety,” something of value that could be sold if the book was not returned. Franklin enthusiastically supported the concept, stating that “these Libraries have improved the general Conversation of Americans, made the common Tradesman and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some Degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defence of their Privileges.” (Capitalizing nouns and using “British spelling” was common before the English language became American language in the U.S.)
“Books are uniquely portable magic.”
— Stephen King
Part of the magic of books is that reading them promotes brain health. Obviously, when students read assignments, they are “exercising” their brains, adding to the stored knowledge that they already possess, and making connections between old knowledge and new knowledge. Ideally, that is the purpose of education.
However, we can boost the health of our brains outside the classroom or assignments from teachers. Simply reading a book creates neurons in the brain through a mechanism called neurogenesis. While we process words on a page, our brains are converting abstract symbols (letters) to thoughts and images. In turn, absorption of these symbols forms neural pathways in our brains to memory, imagination, and sensory processing.
Through reading books, we gain insight into the wisdom of the ages. We get a better idea of other people’s opinions, ideas, and beliefs. And that, in turn, broadens our perspective on the world, makes us more empathetic, and enhances our ability to communicate with others.
Best of all and on top of all that — reading is fun. Burying our noses in books can transport us to distant planets, beautiful castles, tropical paradises. So, if there’s a book for you under the tree on Christmas morning, you are indeed lucky.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s column was suggested by Paul Aguayo.