Curling up with a good book may seem like it’s a lost art, or at least a lost pleasure, as we are increasingly surrounded by computer screens. Purists sometimes decry the advent of e-books and say they can never compare to the tactile pleasure they get from holding an actual book, even a cheaply produced mass market paperback.
But reading books can be more than just pleasure, and can provide more than just entertainment. Research published recently in the journal Science suggests that reading serious literary works can promote a skill they call “theory of the mind,” which has been described as the ability to “read” the thoughts and feelings of other people. It’s important to note, of course, that they placed the word “read” in quotation marks.
But there are other, more immediately practical benefits from reading. Some researchers have identified reading as one of the most effective ways of relieving stress that there is, better even than listening to music, relaxing with a cup of coffee or tea, or taking a long walk through the woods or on a beach. Reading may even help to minimize the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study showed that adults who engage in hobbies that engage their minds, like chess, puzzles, or reading, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. They stress that they have not identified a direct cause-and-effect relationship; it seems that reading or other mental activities help stave off Alzheimer’s by keeping the mind active; in effect, exercising it much the way lifting weights promotes stronger arms.
Alexander Potoczak of Ohio is an avid reader who is currently working toward his Ph.D. at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.