When I was a young boy I did not enjoy reading and I didn’t enjoy being taken to the library by my mother, who loved to read. On occasion my mother would insist that I sit at the kitchen table and read in her presence. Eventually I came to enjoy reading. I still remember the first book I picked out on my own and really enjoyed: “The Dillinger Days” by John Toland. I was probably around twelve or thirteen at this time. When I moved to New York City and started commuting on the subway regularly I stepped up my reading tremendously. Instead of waiting impatiently for a train to arrive, I pulled out a book and got lost in it until the train came. I felt a sense of community reading on the subway. There were always several people reading around me and I enjoyed the variety of books I saw on the train: everything from Jane Austen to Tom Clancy. It was also interesting to see how many people were reading a current best seller. I had a lot of company reading Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” on the train, no doubt due in part to the fact that the book is set in New York City and seemed to foreshadow events and personalities in the news.
As I was browsing through the archive of past editions of OnPoint, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, I was intrigued by a program entitled “The Reading Mind,” which aired on 9/7/07. His guests were Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain”; Constance Steinkuehler, professor of educational communication and technology, University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Jack Beatty, senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. Professor Wolf explained that the act of reading actually shapes the human brain by causing groups of neurons to create new connections and pathways among themselves. Learning to read has a profound impact on a child’s brain. As children learn to read and the neurons in their brains get connected, this process facilitates the acquisition of cognitive skills like inferential thinking. Tom asked professor Wolf if exposure to digital media will impact the brain negatively and she was cautious in her reply. She said she knew for certain that reading print material is highly beneficial for the brain but she couldn’t say the same thing about digital media. When I walk into a library and see people sitting at computers and all the shelf space devoted to DVDs, I am glad to see people checking books out, especially when they have children in tow.
Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2007/09/07/the-reading-mind-2