Why Reading is Good for the Brain

I wanted to briefly step away from the health & fitness posts to share one of my hobbies with you...reading. I love reading! But I especially love reading classic novels. Did you know that reading can improve brain function?

Being physically strong is important, but keeping your brain healthy and strong is also very important. In a world where "junk food" books that are easy-to-read and require little-to-no investment of time or emotion, it is becoming more and more important for this generation to learn how to love classic literature again.

A 2013 study showed that reading the classics, in contrast with commercial fiction and even non-fiction, leads to better social perception and emotional intelligence.

Reading, in general, improves cognitive function, increases reading ability, and increases the development of reasoning skills. Because the stories are so elegant and thoughtfully written, classic novels also improve vocabulary skills. I learned more vocabulary and grammar reading books than I did in Grammar class. So, not only will you be able to think intelligently and contemplatively, you will also be able to speak concisely and with elegance.

Claire Needell Hollander, a middle school English teacher in Manhattan, discovered that her most disadvantaged students connected best with the tales of hardship, loss, and the tyranny of fate found so often in classic novels. Reading the classics can even be a form of therapy: a Liverpool University study showed that poetic language, in particular, stimulates the part of the brain linked to “autobiographical memory” and emotion.  This type of brain activity leads readers to reflect on their own experiences in response to what they have read. As Professor Arnold Weinstein so thoughtfully describes,
"Classic novels are restless creatures, trying out new forms of expression, challenging our views on how a culture might be understood and how a life might be packaged. What is the shape of experience? How would you represent your own? These books help us toward a deeper understanding of our own estate."

Understanding various cultures from the people who actually lived in those times is such a gift. Even period novels with their history, characters, emotions, and dilemmas carry into the present. Human-kind never changes. This is why history is so important. That we may learn from the past to create a brighter, better future.

"The only substitute for an experience we ourselves have never lived through is art, literature. They possess a wonderful ability: beyond distinctions of language, custom, social structure, they can convey the life experience of one whole nation to another… Literature conveys irrefutable condensed experience… from generation to generation. Thus it becomes the living memory of the nation." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This is why I'm such a huge proponent of classic literature. I believe that everyone, young and old, should give them a try. If this thought is daunting to you, remember, you don't have to start with Shakespeare or Alexandre Dumas. You can start with something as simple as Oliver Twist, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Huckleberry Finn. Whatever works for you as you acclimate yourself to the classics.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

  • Emma by Jane Austen

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzy

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I hope that my words, and the words of the others mentioned, have inspired you to look into classic literature. Feel free to use my list above for inspiration and please feel free to ask me for recommendations! It's time to get your brain in on the health and fitness. Pick up a classic novel at your local library and give reading a try.

Until next time,


Resource: Quotes - Punchnel's


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