As a child, reading was a way for me to take fanciful flight on the wings of the lives of others. I loved fairy tales, stories of brave, fearless girls, and some animal stories, but only those read by my mother in her highest, saddest animal voice. Of all my books, I remember Heidi as the story that I loved most. What was it about this tale that burrowed into my heart and stayed there - lodged without judgement for style or message? I asked my mother for Heidi sandwiches (cheese in bread), and I played that I was living in the Alps, tending the goats with Peter, the young shepherd. Once during a rousing game of herding, likely with some extemporaneous dancing thrown in, my mother leaned out the window and suggested that I take my “friends” into the yard. Maybe there were a few cars that slowed down, but I’m quite sure they were entranced by my singing and dancing.
As an adult, when I first visited Switzerland and saw the Alps, I could barely keep from crying. In my mind’s eye, I saw Clara, the little girl who couldn’t walk, Heidi’s grandfather, and of course the ubiquitous goats. Truly, the life of the mind is real and redolent with expression and emotion. Reading gave me my first understanding of the complexity of people and personalities. I learned to understand human flaws and frailties through literature, and I better understood the complexities of human emotion and decision making. As a former English teacher, I loved the conversations in my classes about books we were reading and I even took time out to read to my students, particularly during stressful periods in their lives. I have, therefore, been intrigued by the new research that has emerged as part of the importance of not losing literature in a STEM-focused world. I found a salient quote that I thought I would share with you written by Janet Alsup in Independent School Magazine, winter edition. It is entitled: “Literature in the Age of Google.”
“But the research — not to mention the intuition of most English teachers — suggests that we need to push back, to preserve that practice of reading, discussing, analyzing, and enjoying literary fiction. The latter point — about enjoyment — is particularly important. As researcher Victor Nell points out, the psychological experience of being “lost in a book” is a meditative “flow” experience. And this flow experience is essential for deep engagement, for learning, for psychological health.
Fiction cannot make a reader moral or ethical or a kinder human being; however, it can provide an opportunity for young readers to identify and empathize with characters and situations, think critically about these same characters and events, and vicariously sort through the personal choices the narrative offers. So, like actual surfing (not the Internet kind), reading literary fiction becomes real experience, an emotional, visceral, and intensely human experience — one that can make young readers more caring and confident as they act in the real world.”
Last week during the rainstorm, I went into the library and read a Japanese novel that was a Man Booker Prize-winner, and while I am ambivalent about the story, the writing is masterful and powerful. Again, I am still easily transported and always enriched through my reading and fiction plays a large role in my life; it always has.