One of the questions I personally find hard to give an answer to is when someone queries why I read or another is how I got into books. Of course, the obvious, tried and tested replies that automatically spring to mind would be along the lines of ‘Reading is fun’, ‘Reading is educational’, ‘Books are my best friends’. Well, maybe not that last one quite so much but hopefully you get my drift.
Of course we read for one or all of the afore-mentioned reasons although other motivators could include escapism and a desire to improve language and vocabulary skills. Some readers even go so far as to claim that reading makes them more empathetic as they not only learn more about themselves and others through their reading but also as they get a better understanding of the world they live in. In short, they claim that reading makes them better people and better listeners.
The science behind how reading actually affects brain structure is currently being tested by a group of scientists in the United States. Students will be given a fixed amount of literature to read and then each student’s brain will be scanned to see what effect takes place in the brain. This is a revolutionary technique literally dubbed ‘The Science of Reading’. For more on this report, click this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/apr/11/brain-scans-probe-books-imagination.
I am no scientist but I still remember how I felt as a child when listening to my first bedtime story. I could not tell you specifically what the story was about, and there were many, but I can tell you that it was as if by magic everything was transformed. You see, my father was the best story teller. A voracious reader himself he would thrill us with embellished stories based on the adventures of ‘Shater Hassan’, a make-believe Arabian character, who crossed swords with the evil Sultan’s army, defended the weak and fought for justice. All the while getting into as it seemed never-ending and at times completely daft trouble. So daft that in one incident and solely for the benefit of his listening daughters Shater Hassan had to drink tea with mermaids to the dismay of my two brothers.
Father’s captivating narration was so intense, so enrapturing that when he brandished a twig to fight a make-believe ghoul, we saw a sword and when he spun us around the room, we really were at the Sultan’s ball, when we marched it was to the sound of the African drum we believed with all our heart we could hear in our very ears and when our hero, armed with only a pistol in his hand, finally came face to face with that rogue elephant to save the fair maiden, our heart leapt into our mouth. Needless to say, our hero always won.
As we grew older my father continued to unlock more and more fictitious doors through which we’d step into to meet with ever more fascinating characters; Sinbad, Peter Pan, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer and the entire cast of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. The time came when we could find the stories on our own and the books (keys he called them) replaced our much-loved narrator. Today, his legacy and our memories are kept alive through the books we choose for ourselves and those we hand to our children. Reading is what binds me to my father, my past, my present and my future.
So why do I read? I read to be thrilled, to be challenged, to be fascinated, to be consumed and emotionally spent. I read to have my life turned upside down, my beliefs tested and new ones forged. I return to books as a junkie to a fix. Of course, not every book will do that as not one key will open all doors and just as a princess has to kiss many frogs to find her prince. However, when the magic happens and such a book comes along, with a plot that makes my skin tingle and the small hairs at the back of my neck stand up, a story that refuses to release me from its grip to get some shut-eye before next day’s crucial meeting, then that’s when I know my love affair with reading has not been in vain, in fact is everlasting.