Well read-head: Does reading make you a better person?
Are people who read better people than those who don’t?
That’s the view of a well known Italian writer who was recently in Australia for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. You know Vicenzo Cerami’s writing if you’ve seen the film Life is Beautiful. He wrote the screenplay.
‘Those who read are better people,’ he told The Australian newspaper. ‘They are able to travel with their imagination, so they can look at things from different perspectives and don’t take things at face value. They are more mature and tolerant and therefore more realistic about the complexity of life.’
Cerami was mounting the argument that children must be taught to love reading so they become better adults.
I’m not sure I can entirely sign up to the generalisation that all those who read are superior to all those who don’t, but I certainly agree with his basic proposition that children should be taught to love books.
My love of reading started when I was in Grade One. I was ill constantly and had to take a lot of time off school. Worried that I’d be bored, Mum arrived home one day with The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton and I’ve barely had my nose out of a book since.
The very same copy that I read at age six still sits on my bookshelf today. It started me down a path that quickly led to The Secret Seven, Famous Five and The Chalet School. The downside to reading so much Enid Blyton was that I developed an unrealistic idea about how fabulous boarding school would be.
‘If you don’t start behaving yourself, I’m shipping you off to Boarding School,’ Mum used to regularly threaten.
‘That would be so excellent, please please please can I go?’ I’d beg, my head filled with thoughts of midnight feasts and holidays at castles where I’d thwart smugglers.
When I’d devoured every Enid Blyton book, I did the same with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden – frequently under the blanket with a torch after I’d been ordered to turn the light off. Anne of Green Gables soon followed.
During high school, I succumbed to the ubiquitous Sweet Valley High series like all the other girls. My best friend and I graduated straight from teen romance to pot boilers and bodice rippers. We were keen consumers of Jackie Collins, Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon.
We knew that Sheldon’s Master of the Game was far too old for us and we’d sneak into my parents’ rumpus room, grab it from the bookshelf, our heads bumping as we huddled together over the paperback, flipping the page when we were both ready. Of course, the Flowers in the Attic phenomenon didn’t miss us either.
Did I read any quality literature as a child or young adult? Not especially. I didn’t really know the difference between capital L Literature and pulp fiction. All I knew was that I liked reading things that were interesting.
The beauty of being left to my own devices in my childhood and young adult reading life was that I grew to love books because it was my thing, not somebody else’s thing foisted on me.
I think if you follow that path you’ll end up at serious books anyway. And if you don’t – so what? I don’t really care if people read comics or Cormac McCarthy, as long as they’re reading and enjoying it.
Today, when I pull my copy of The Enchanted Wood off the shelf, with its yellowing pages and its dog eared corners, I think it is the most valuable thing anybody has ever given me.
Here are this fortnight’s ten interesting things to read, watch or listen to:
1. In the 1930s and 40s, the US Farm Security Administration photographically documented the lives of farmers during the Great Depression and the years after. Some of the pictures are extraordinary. Many thanks to @JasmeenMalhotra on twitter.
2. The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt is one of those columnists people either love or hate. He is currently taking time to off to mark his fiftieth birthday. The milestone has prompted him to write a reflective column titled ‘Things I’ve learned in 50 years’. One of my friends detests Bolt and she rang me to tell me it nearly made her cry because it was so good.
3. If you’re worried about who is going to look after your pets come the Rapture, worry no more.
4. James Murdoch recently threw the cat among the pigeons with the MacTaggart Lecture, in which he said that public broadcasters were distorting the market by flooding it with news product for free. It’s certainly worth discussion and there’s been plenty already! You can check out Murdoch’s speech, the BBC’s response and The Guardian’s reporting of the speech all on the one link.
5. Palliative care is becoming an increasingly important part of medicine. Its goal is to reduce suffering for people facing the end of life. The New York Times has a great piece about how doctors deal with patients for whom there is no cure. It’s lengthy, but a terrific read.
6. If you’ve ever been under stress and felt butterflies in your stomach, you’ll understand what a close link there is between the brain and the gut. In another New York Times medical story, the reporter explains the body’s second brain.
7. The Atlantic’s take on Cluedo for the modern age.
8. The comedian Tony Martin was recently on Melbourne community radio as ‘commercial radio consultant’ Gary Sizzle. It is funny - but also disturbingly true to life.
9. Twenty six year old former Sydneysider, Amelia Lester, recently landed the dream job of Managing Editor of The New Yorker magazine. In 2005, she reflected for Harvard Magazine about moving from Australia to the US. As somebody who had the same experience, I related to much of it.
10. You may have seen the extraordinary news story last week about police in the US finding Jaycee Dugar eighteen years after she was kidnapped. Newsweek had a very interesting piece on the role of intuition in the police investigation.
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