Building My Brain with Books


I enjoy visual media as much as anyone, but I believe reading is better for my brain.

Years ago, in a class on brain development, I learned that reading builds our brains by forcing us to mentally create matching visualizations in order to grasp the meaning of words — unlike TV or movies where our noggins passively accept images others have created.

I’ve been building my brain for a long time.

I don’t remember my mother reading to me when I was a toddler; but I know she did because I watched her read to my younger siblings on a regular basis. I do remember her reading poetry to my siblings and me from a slender volume, One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Carolyn and I thrilled to “The Highwayman;” Bob requested “The Charge of the Light Brigade;” and for years, at odd moments, Barbara startled us by gravely chanting in a low voice: “On the shores of Gitchee Gummee; by the shining Big-Sea-Water.”

But I think my life-long love affair with books began when we climbed into our battle-weary jeep and sparred over seating while Mom drove us along gravel roads to the gently aged Spanish Fork library, which stood in a sea of grass and trees on Main Street. We ran up fifteen steps and into the dimly-lit building, where we scattered across the hardwood floors to our favorite sections like marbles dropped from a bag. After searching and sampling, we traveled home with our limit of books, arguing over who made the best choices.

school-girl2When I was seven, I asked Mom to draw a picture of me. She accepted the challenge and sketched an open book with a braid sticking out on each side, then wrote “Hooked on Books” beneath her masterpiece.

My mother guided my reading, but didn’t control it. She demonstrated an understanding of her daughter and perfect timing when she gave me Little Women and, later, Girl of the Limberlost. I read and reread them until they fell open at my favorite places.

In high school and college, teachers guided my reading, assigning some books I read dutifully, some I read with pleasure, and some I loved so much I mourned when I finished them: Pickwick Papers, The Sound and the Fury, Crime and Punishment.

Family members and friends have recommended many books I treasure: Catch 22, Shipping News, The Poisonwood Bible; others I discovered browsing in libraries and bookstores: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Road, Cold Mountain.

My favorite conversations with my favorite people begin, “Have you read any good books lately?”

Reading has remained a staunch friend throughout my life. I feel uneasy if I don’t have one or two novels, mysteries, or memoirs waiting to be read. I’m still hooked on books. And, I believe, my brain still benefits.

Have any thoughts
about books you’ve read and loved
or the importance of reading?
Please leave a comment.

Recap of Comments on “Dubious Skills”
Becca admitted to a questionable skill we share: when shopping, she’s drawn to clothes she never wears. Mercy and Audrey vowed to try new, fun things without worrying about their skill level; and Janice took time off from planning an upcoming trip to Paris to reinforce Aunt Beulah’s tendency to “sing, arrange, and plan with abandon.”



10 thoughts on “Building My Brain with Books

  1. I can’t do the favorite book thing. There are too many. China Mieville is my newest obsession, though I am a huge fan of Ursula LeGuin as well for clarity of prose and sheer imaginative scope. You might like to check out this article, which I teach to my high school students every year (they’re initially incensed, then sheepishly admit the author is, like, TOTALLY right):


    • Being unfamiliar with Mieville and LeGuin, I have something to anticipate. I will also read the article you teach and respond to you about it — as soon as i take another beach walk, eat more shrimp, and visit the sea turtle rescue center.


  2. As usual Janet, you evoke a rush of memories. I now spend my Tuesdays reminiscing about my youth, thanks to you. I don’t remember my mother reading to us, but I do remember my dad reading, sometimes the Sunday comic strips. He had a gentle voice. My mother created a little cubby with book cases by a window that the sun shone in and I remember laying on the floor reading there. I remember sobbing while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind. Grapes of Wrath was required in Jr. High and I couldn’t wait to get back to it. I love all kinds of books; my secret is I like Stephen King and read the entire Gunslinger series. However, I don’t usually read authors. Most of the time I couldn’t tell you who wrote the book I am currently reading. I love it though when my young hairdresser asks what I am reading and we have a great conversation about books or my young co-worker tells me how much she loves reading. She always has a book in her purse “just in case” and we have shared a great many books. It pleases me when I hear about someone I consider “young” loving to read as much as I do. All of our children are readers and discussing books is always a pleasant conversation with them. Except for one grandson. He told us one summer how much he hates reading. So being the dutiful grandmother I scanned my memory banks and came up with three books I was sure he would “love” as a young boy. I bought them, mailed them to him and he was excited about a package from Gramma. He was apparently appalled when he opened it and wondered outloud why I would do such a thing and send him books. Oh well. Maybe someday. I guess we can’t all be readers.


    • I love the sound of “a little cubby with book cases by a window that the sun shone in…” What a gift your mother gave you, as did your father with his gentle voice. I don’t think you and I have ever discussed books. We’ll have to do so. Thanks for this wonderful comment.


  3. I have “The Sound and the Fury” but have never cracked it open. I will be doing so very soon! Also- books I LOVE: Little Women, Jane Eyre, and a more recent requisition– Edenbrooke. I have always heard that readers make the best writers– now I know why I enjoy your blog so much!


    • What a lovely, compliment, Becca. I’m glad we share Little Women. Jane Eyre is another book your grandmother told me I should read at just the right time. I loved it as well. I’ll have to have a look at Edenbrooke.So many books, so little time!


  4. The recent movie, The Butler, has kept me thinking about segregation and how little I knew about this in small town Kansas. Then I saw ’12 Years a Slave’ and was horrified. Somehow the books about blacks in the South must have been easily dismissed as ‘fiction’ at a younger age. Not surprisingly, my current book is ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd. Good for my mind and my heart.


  5. Ahhh, Janet, where to begin. Over thirty years, some of my most enjoyable times have been with books you’ve recommended or else sent to me.

    My family lived in rustic ways, and often remote, so we had no close library. My mother read to us every day and every night, and even now my brother and I can recite nearly every Mother Goose Rhyme and know most Aesop Fables. Our parents spent scarce money on a set of “Book of Knowledge” encyclopedias and we’d each read a volume in bed until we’d read the entire set. We learned early that we were not interrupeted for chores if we were seen reading…maybe that’s why we were such voracious readers?

    When we finally had access to a library, my experiences were much as you describe. I remember standing just inside the door and loving how it smelled with swamp cooler dampness and books, books, books.

    In High School I traded study hall for being a library helper and the Librarians waited each week with their suggestions. “The Good Earth”, “The Jungle”, “Hull House”, “Kon Tikki”, biographies of crusading and accomplished women. I’m so grateful for their guidance. Teachers make such profound differences in children’s lives by opening their world with reading.

    I have a grown granddaughter that will read any book I suggest and discuss it in detail. Her favorite book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! When a grandson was in Afghanistan I sent him books that he read and shared. Next to my family, I love reading.


    • What a joy-filled, love of reading response you wrote, Mercy. And how fortunate your loved ones are that you gave the gift of reading to them, as your parents gave it to you. Thank you for writing.


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