It’s not fiction: reading is good for you, and there’s science ...


It’s not fiction: reading is good for you, and there’s science to prove it

Forget your self-help tomes and chick-lit, though – to get the benefits, you have to brave the classics

Jane Shilling

“What do we, as a nation, care about books? How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared with what we spend on our horses?” Thus John Ruskin in Sesame and Lilies. Update horses to cars or holidays, and you have a question as urgent now as it was a century and a half ago.

Ahead of World Book Day next Thursday, two research studies give a mixed account of the current state of our relationship with literature.

In his recently published book, Reading for Life, Prof Philip Davis explores the neuroscience of reading. Using brain imaging and other monitoring technologies to record the physical responses of his subjects to the act of reading, he found that literary classics can “galvanise” our brains and influence the way we process emotion, while the effect of self-help books was decidedly less dramatic. He concluded that the right kind of literary therapy could help people suffering with mental disorders such as depression and mild to moderate dementia...

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