The Secret Gift of Reading is Time

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Booksellers' Desk

Salaam Dear Reader,

Last week during one of the National Library’s ‘Reading in the Age of Distraction’ sessions, the neurologist-turned-reading-activist Maryanne Wolf spoke about the reading brain in the digital world.

She spoke about how the brain is transformed (literally) by the practice of reading, especially deep reading. Most of what she discussed has already been published in her book Reader, Come Home, but it was wonderful to revisit her ideas and research.

When we read on digital media, more often than not we are skimming and trying to get through the text in a matter of seconds. We fail to notice how arguments are constructed, how words have been painstakingly arranged by the author; we miss out on the beauty of language, and ultimately on the truth value of ideas and propositions. If you’re skimming texts in seconds, there is no way your brain has the time to take all this in.

Time is key in the valuing of truth.

If you spend less time for beauty, truth and reading, your valuing of beauty and truth will diminish. It’s that simple. Multiply this by the number of people in our population, and it is no surprise that the practice of skim-reading texts on social media has been implicated in the rise of the post-truth media environment — with all the ugliness and anarchy it brings.

Reading print books gives us time to make inferences, to analyse, to be in awe of beauty, and to think about truth. Wolf also coined the term ‘Proustian Pause’ to refer to those moments when our gaze lifts off the printed page and we indulge in our own thoughts. When a reader does this, he or she is not daydreaming, rather the reader is actively engaging in ideas that require pause to process, challenge, or integrate, in the ‘gymnasium of the mind’ that is the book. Studies have shown that this happens a lot more often when we’re reading printed books compared to texts on screen.

So, reader, if you have been pulled away from deep reading, it’s time to come home. The secret gift of reading is time.

Booksellers' Desk

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