Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Reading and the mind

Reading quantity may be related to IQ.  That is, the more you read, the smarter you get.  The relationship is somewhat complicated, and not the least bit controversial, but there is some evidence. For a good, although somewhat dated summary, check out this article.

I personally think that the quality of the reading material (aside from vocabulary level) is also important, and hence why the map below interested me.  It is far harder to find evidence to support this, but generally the books that have more 'life on the page' as Ray Bradbury would say, have more themes - and themes give you more to think about.  Being introduced to new themes makes you a better informed, deeper and more reflective person.

The map below shows the most read book by High School seniors in the USA.  Firstly, great!  Young people are reading!  Second, they are reading some good material.  

The Most Read Book Among High School Seniors From Each State, in One Surprising Map

Now, there are good books, bad books and ugly books.  The graph above adds an extra category - recently advertised books (i.e huge publicity push, usually with movie).  I see some absolutely life changing books on the chart.  Namely: Night, Animal Farm, Macbeth, and maybe Frankenstein (barely, but with great themes).  It would be enlightening to see the top five most read books.  It may be that those who read the Fault in our Stars also read all the others, but who knows.

The Fault in our Stars is neither ugly nor is it bad.  One way to look at it is, does it play on the emotions of teenagers, or in contrast, expand their paradigms of human experience?  In my opinion it definitely does the first, and perhaps the second a little.  It's an okay book (IMHO), but clearly the teenagers love it.  And why wouldn't they?  It's carefully designed to appeal to them.    

'Night' on the other hand is not.  'Night' is a recount by Elie Wiesel who was sent to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany when he was 14.  You cannot read that book and not be changed.  And yet, it is not designed for anyone, no market research went into it, it is simply a chunk of real life.  If you read 'Fault in our Stars' you will 'feel' (loss, pain, anger, love) but you may not be changed.

Anyway, its great to see young people reading - and not all of them are falling for the commercialization of books and are reading material that is old but powerful, rather than new, glossy and popular.  How much of these are required reading for school we don't know either.  I suspect all the older ones are.  However, any young person who gets through Animal Farm or Night is going to be an educated and interesting person.    

Long live the book.


  1. Hi, two thoughts! I read recently that the idea of IQ has changed, intelligence is not a single factor but can be broken down into different abilities? The other thing I thought as I read was if reading material promotes feelings and human reaction in youth that can only be a good thing. Texting, emailing, Facebooking etc are void of emotion often and leave it to interpretation which will often be misconstrued by a developing brain led by the limbic system! If reading assists a youth to react in a Hussain way to a human situation I'm all for it...even if it is in the fault in the stars!

  2. A Hussain way? What the! I mean human!

  3. So long as you didn't mean - react in a Saddam Hussein way! Yeah IQ, in my mind is a failed concept but people seem to respect it. There is the IQ triangle, which posits the mysterious 'g' at the top, followed by a bunch of cognitive concepts below (processing speed, working memory etc). But yes, right there with you - feeling something, anything, is great - and getting to know and love a character is awesome.

  4. Great to have some new content here...! I shall read and digest...