It seems that in present time, we are being drawn closer together through technology, and yet are experiencing gaping divides between groups. Instead of relating to (or disagreeing with) your neighbour, you can build and destroy relationships worldwide. In such an atmosphere, it is more important than ever to understand your world better - and reading books just might be the key.
Get stories and articles like this delivered directly to your inbox! Sign up to our email list to receive stories, news and exclusive offers.
Reading a book can sweep you away from your small place in the present, and catapult you to anywhere in place and time, increasing your understanding of your world. Through the power of shared experiences (shared between you and what you are reading), your brain actually changes. You create meaning of your world, become more empathetic, and experience different times and cultures. This culminates in a greater understanding of events, people, and everything around you.
Did you know that when you read a book, your brain doesn’t differentiate between you actually experiencing an event, or you reading it? The same parts of your brain are stimulated in both cases. If a book has ever made you angry or made you cry, you will immediately understand how this happens. This not only goes for emotional experiences that you read, but the physical ones as well. If you read about kicking a soccer ball, the brain area associated with your leg activates. (1) Thank goodness your leg doesn't respond, as well!
Reading Affects you Emotionally and Psychologically
Reading helps you construct personal meaning, and brings you a better understanding of your place in the world. This occurs when you compare your circumstances to those that you read about, and when you consider your opinions about the characters and events. How did Harry Potter’s treatment by his Aunt and Uncle make you feel in the first book of the series by J.K. Rowling? Whether you are angry, sympathetic, or are reminded of a bad memory, each reaction says something about you. And, as the book progresses, how you relate to Harry and the other characters expands on that.
No single book can show you where you stand in the world, but through reading different genres and authors, you will begin to see where you stand in the swirling possibilities. Do you relate more closely to the orphaned Harry Potter? Or perhaps the story of Josette, a strong-willed mother in Maia Caron’s novel “Song of Batoche” (from our Spring 2018 box) resonates with you more. Neither may be true, but both characters will shed light on where you exist in comparison, and how you feel about them.
As reading helps you understand yourself, it helps you understand others.
No, you will never live as a magical wizard like Harry, nor as a Métis woman living alongside Louis Riel; but you can feel what they feel, experience what they experience, and add it to your library of understanding humanity. By relating to others outside of yourself, whether you agree with them or not, you grow more empathetic. In fact, empathy is one of Raven Reads’ Top Five Benefits of Reading.
Being taken out of yourself is one of the best things about a great book. It takes you away from where you are, and through a cultural and historical experience. Books preserve history for the future, and allow us to experience what has passed. In his lecture called “Why our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming,” renowned writer Neil Gaiman says:
Understanding comes from experience, and it doesn't seem to matter if that experience is personal or read. Every time you read a book, you increase your understanding of what is going on around you. You are living the life of thousands of people in thousands of different places and times. If only everyone could read more.