The Rewards of Reading (page 5)
Like eating, reading is one of life’s activities that simultaneously yields both pleasure and benefit. When we chomp down on a three-way chimichanga, the sensations of texture, temperature, and taste reward us right then. No one needs to confirm the results; from our own personal taste buds, we know immediately that the bite is satisfying. Any attempt to change our mind is a waste of words. In addition to the obvious pleasure, our digestive system now turns the agreeable mixture of beans, beef, lettuce, onions, and tortilla into nutrients that keep us going. Benefits automatically follow the pleasing meal—energy and good health—but the primary reason for lifting a fork is the immediate reward of tasting.
Similarly, immediate reward is the one dependable criterion for determining why people choose to read. Beyond that, it is impossible to predict how a particular reader will be affected by print, as illustrated by the following actual incidents:
- Conventional wisdom says that a reader must comprehend a certain percentage of written material for reading to be successful, yet 3-year-old Bobby Morgan, whose parents read to him regularly, got up early to spend time with issues of National Geographic, which he preferred to picture books. His parents knew that he was comprehending only a fraction of the material, but he continued to spend hour after hour with the magazine.
- Common sense indicates that we seek comfortable surroundings when engaging in a long activity such as extended reading, yet Sean, a college student, drove to the bookstore on a snowy day to buy a new book and decided to spend a few minutes looking it over in his car before heading home. Time passed, and the sun set. To continue reading, Sean had to hold the book to the window so the lights from the parking lot would shine onto the page. Four hours later, he started his chilled car for the drive to his apartment.
- Educational practice says that the difficulty of a text should be matched to individual reading abilities, yet Bill, a junior high student with second-grade reading skills, chose a book far beyond his tested level. A part of his school day was spent in intensified reading instruction in a lab setting, with the last half-hour devoted to uninterrupted individual reading. Educator Dan Fader watched Bill during his 30 minutes of reading time until the bell sounded. “Still absorbed in his reading, Bill closed the book, glanced at the cover, placed the book in his bag, and started for the door. Intrigued by this 13-year-old second-grade reader, I crossed his path at the door and walked with him as I asked, ‘What are you reading?’ ‘Jaws.’ ‘Is it good?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘But isn’t it hard?’ ‘Sure it’s hard, but it’s worth it!’” (Fader, 1976, p. 236).
When we read words that have meaning for us, we know “it’s worth it.” No one needs to confirm the results. We, ourselves, have proven their value. Beyond the immediate satisfaction, a number of benefits come our way: expanded vocabulary, increased world knowledge, improved reading skills, better communication skills, strengthened knowledge of language, new insights, power to compete in an information-driven age, and perhaps a certain amount of additional confidence. Engaging in the act of reading leads us down the sure path to becoming educated, but the primary reason for turning pages is always the immediate reward. Some novels provide that appeal from the first paragraph, as does The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (1985).
On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.
She was a person of sixteen or so—alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man. (p. 3)
Nonfiction can have the same immediate appeal. In The Human Body: And How It Works by Steve Parker, a double-page spread focuses on the skin. The first paragraph reads:
On the outside, you are dead. Your hair and the surface of your skin are made of dead cells. But less than a millimeter away under the surface of your skin are some of the busiest cells in your body. They are continually dividing to make new layers of skin cells which harden and die, to replace the top layer of skin as it is worn away. Every day millions of dead skin cells rub off as you wash, dry yourself with a towel, get dressed and move about. Much of the “dust” in a house is dead skin which has rubbed off the bodies of people. (1998, p. 10)
Real reading, then, offers us two rewards. The first is immediate. The text pulls us into images and ideas at the very moment we travel through the words: Suddenly we realize that dust particles illuminated by a shaft of sunlight are bits of our own skin! We find ourselves intrigued with this new thought. The second reward of reading is long term. Over time, the accumulated benefits—increased language and thinking skills plus additional knowledge, experience, and insight—add up to the reader becoming an educated person.
Jim Trelease identifies some of the powerful benefits of reading (2001, p. xxiv):
One can arguably state: reading is the single most important social factor in American life today. Here’s a formula to support that. It sounds simplistic, but all its parts can be documented, and while not 100 percent universal, it holds true far more often than not.
- The more you read, the more you know. (Foertsch, 1992)
- The more you know, the smarter you grow. (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985)
- The smarter you are, the longer you stay in school. (Associated Press, 1994)
- The longer you stay in school, the more diplomas you earn and the longer you are employed—thus the more money you earn in a lifetime. (Lee, 1994)
- The more diplomas you earn, the higher your children’s grades will be in school. (de Vinck, 1991)
- The more diplomas you earn, the longer you live. (Rogot, Sorlie, & Johnson, 1992)
The rewards of reading also can be viewed through the lens of bibliotherapy. In its broadest definition, bibliotherapy is any kind of emotional healing that comes from reading books. Therapy derived from books falls into at least three different categories: (1) the broad therapeutic feelings of recreation and gratification experienced by an individual reader, (2) the sense of connectedness felt by members of a group who read and share books together, and (3) the particular information and insight books can provide in dealing with specific personal problems (Chatton, 1988).
The first two categories, recreation and connectedness, result naturally from reading. Those who have found compelling titles experience the first category as they discover the deep satisfaction, stimulation, and comfort that books can bring. The second category—connectedness—occurs when readers experience a book along with others, a new dimension to the group relationship. A teacher and classroom of children who read a book together are able to connect with one another in new ways when laughing, crying, or simply talking about their mutual experience.
The third category—dealing with specific and often deep-seated personal problems—is, of course, best reserved for trained psychologists and psychotherapists, who can and do use books successfully in their practices. Other adults can serve children simply by reading and recommending good books and allowing personal insight, comfort, and the answering of troubling questions to come in their own natural and timely ways. Bibliotherapy, whatever the level, promises parents, teachers, and children personal rewards as a result of time spent with books.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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