I’ve confessed often about my “biblioholism” — there are definitely worse addictions! We, the People of the Book, have always promoted reading and learning. The wonderful tradition of putting honey on the slate as a child is first introduced to the aleph-bet sends the message that learning is sweet and it begins early. We start our children early listening to stories and exploring books and set them on a lifelong pursuit of learning and discovery. There are actually lots of reasons why reading is so important beyond the ones that are obvious (like reading a sign or a menu!). Sarah-Mae McCullough gives the statistics behind the reading in her article “Why Many Introverts Love Reading (and Shouldn’t Stop, According to Science).” This article talks of the importance of fiction but there are really no better stories to get lost in than those from the Torah.
1. Fiction increases empathy and social intelligence.
Have you ever noticed how the words of a story can rise off the page and create a new world that feels just as real as the one we live in? Researchers have found that fiction readers create intense mind simulations of the narrative’s events as they read, as if they were experiencing the plot themselves.
2. We become more comfortable with ambiguity, making better decisions.
George R.R. Martin, the author behind Game of Thrones, said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” Because our mind and emotions become so immersed in narratives, it’s as if we’re living them alongside the characters we’re reading about. In his book, “Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction,” Keith Oatley writes: “Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers but on minds…”
3. Reading lowers our stress levels.
While your mind and emotions are absorbed in a novel, your heart rate slows and your muscles release tension. A study at the University of Sussex found that reading, which reduces stress by 68%, is even more relaxing than taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea. As a bonus, regular readers sleep better.
4. Reading makes us better communicators.
Whether you want to communicate better in conversation or in writing, the more you read, the more words seem to work with you. The website testyourvocab.com reviewed data gathered from millions of test takers and found that fiction readers have the most expansive vocabularies, followed by nonfiction readers, and then those who rarely read. Building your vocabulary and learning to wield the power of words opens up more opportunities to express yourself and forge meaningful connections with others.
Yes, the internet is a wonderful thing but there is nothing like reading a “real” book! I do have the Tanakh app on my phone and instant resources from Sefaria.com but there is something about delving into a tractate of Steinsaltz’s Talmud that can’t be described — it is an experience for the senses as well as the mind. One of my favorite quotes from an unknown author is: “Some girls watched ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and wanted the prince. I watched it and wanted the library.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.