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What began as a small monthly book club with staff at Sugar Creek Library and local fifth graders, has turned into a weekly sounding board for students to have intimate, and sometimes intense, discussions on racism through a shared love of reading.

What is so special about reading?

March 30, 2023

This blog was written by Alicia Harris, library assistant at South County Regional Library.

Reading allows complex, conceptual thoughts to be understood in a gradual, methodical way.  Using narrative, ideas and thoughts are formed in a linear fashion, allowing them to be encoded into memory.  It is true that when writing and reading became the mode of communication during Socrates’ time, this “new technology” was criticized, according to author Nicholas Carr in his book, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, for cheapening thought processes that had historically used rote memorization and oration as the means of expression.  No longer needing to memorize in order to later recite, it could be said something was lost as many now suggest that heavy use of disruptive media is harming our minds by disallowing deep thought and shortening attention spans.  Reading is also restorative and private.  It allows one to digest another’s ideas and stories in a dialectical manner, mulling over the assertions or descriptions while perhaps eschewing the finer points.  In the process, the imparted knowledge expands perspective and enables linkages to previously read material.  Understanding grows more complex and therefore nuanced.

        

Carr futher goes on to say:

          “The contents of our long-term memory lie mainly outside of our consciousness. In order for us to think about something we’ve previously learned or experienced, our brain has to transfer the memory from long-term memory back to working memory. ‘We are only aware that something was stored in long-term memory when it is brought down into working memory,' explains Sweller.”’ It was once assumed that long-term memory served merely as a big warehouse of facts, impressions, and events, that it ‘played little part in complex cognitive processes such as thinking and problem-solving.’ But brain scientists have come to realize that long-term memory is actually the seat of understanding.”

     This is why reading may be such a powerful mode to long-term knowledge and understanding. It is in its gradual nature that allows what is being read to be stored.  Attention is concentrated and sustained with certain resonant facts and impressions being retained.  What one then “knows” is largely in the unconscious until brought into awareness again when challenged or refined by new information.  The new knowledge must be reorganized and remapped into what was previously learned, editing out “facts” no longer supported.  It is in this editing phase that most highlights the dialectical process that reading promotes and engages the reader and thereby ensures a lasting impression.