Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Um, What?: Reading Edition

I would like to say this post is ‘cause I’m a snooty college student majoring in psychology, but in reality, this is about reading.  First, last, and always, I am a bibliophile.

This started a few books ago, during one of the splendid Codex Alera books that I paused, took a moment, and actually looked at the words.  I was trying to see how the sentences were crafted and get a sense of style.  I mean, I love Jim Butcher’s books.  They’re easy to read, fast-paced, and basically chocolate for the glutton.  If there’s anyone’s style I’d like to study, it’d be his or Lloyd Alexander’s.

After about two paragraphs, I kinda shook my head.  It was just words. Words forming sentences, that formed paragraphs, that told one of the best stories I’d ever read.  But it was just words.

I dismissed that notion.  No reader worth their library believes books are just words.

When I’m reading, really reading, into-the-story, not-putting-it-down, I see the words on the page, can even sometimes remember where it was at on the page if I want to find it again.  There’s not a lot visual going on for me.  I get impressions of images and voices and people; in other words, not the mini-mind-movie other people talk about.  And, um, I read romance and romantic smut.  During a love scene, I don’t want a visual so much as I want to figure out how in the blazes is that position even possible?  And, how big is this bed?  But I digress.

I’ve done some semi-research on what books do for your brain.  Everyone agrees:  reading is good for you.  But what exactly is going on?

Well, here I am at the Carey library, bored out of my mind between classes; hungry because I have no cash on me so I can’t eat (I’m broke till Thursday anyway); stressed because I don’t get the statistics homework; stressed even more because I don’t have my textbooks yet and can’t do the assigned reading; disappointed because I thought I was just going take some time to re-read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a splendid book, but a heavy one and I’m having as much trouble with it the second time around as I did the first time around; dejected because I just finished the latest Pride series book, the list goes on…;  and with nothing better to do, or able to do, I’m Googling what’s going on in the brain whilst reading.

And here’s what I found:

Okay, so it’s common knowledge the words evoke images.  What I found interesting was that the brain doesn’t bother with much distinction between your real life experiences, and the experiences you read through in fiction.

So, there’s no distinction between reading Frodo going to Mordor, and actually going into Mordor yourself?  If you read it, your brain thinks you did it?

And the readers go, Huh?  Me too, readers.  Me too.

But seriously, both articles say it.  (I looked at a couple, but these were the two I really liked.)

Although, considering the commitment required to read Lord of the Rings, yeah, it feels like you went to Mordor.  Heck, it feels like that just watching the movies.  You’re slightly exhausted at the end, and not quite yourself anymore.  Or at least that’s how I felt when I finished watching all three movies in a short span of time to expose the little brother to them after watching the first two Hobbit movies.

So, when there’s the reader memes saying you’ve lived a thousand lives?  Well, there’s scientific evidence to back that up.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”


Have your ever felt so connected to a story that it’s as if you experienced it in real life? There’s a good reason why: your brain actually believes that you have experienced it.


They don’t quite say the same thing, but the point remains.

Interesting.  In that case, can I put that I saved Prydain with Taran, Chicago (and the rest of the world) with Harry Dresden, and Daneland with Beowulf on my resume?  What?  My brain thinks it did those things.

I just wanted to see what the deal was with reading something that was just words, that’s not just words.  And somehow, I wandered off the reservation, and now I'm questioning every experience I thought I had and all the ones I read.  They’re some interesting articles though.  Verra verra interestin’.

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