By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERUQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 29, 2016) – “Hello, this is Richard Weikart,” came the voice at the other end of the phone. “I noticed that you did a short write-up of my book The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life and I wanted to thank you . Plus, I think we have a lot in common,” Dr. Weikart continued, giving a quick overview of points in our lives that intersect.
I was elated that Dr. Weikart called, particularly since he’s one of the notable professors at my Alma Mater, California State University, Stanislaus. We talked for a few minutes, introducing ourselves and discussing our connections and interests.
Not long after Dr. Weikart called, I received an email from Lori Cameron of Penwood Review (http://www.penwoodreview.com/), letting me know that one of my poems will be published in an upcoming issue. I thanked her via email, counting it an honor to be a part of a review that “was established to embrace high quality poetry of all kinds, and to provide a forum for poets who want to write intriguing, energetic, and disciplined poetry as an expression of their faith in God.”
So cool, I thought — two writing connections in one week. Then it dawned on me: literature has a way of bringing people together.
Researchers at Boise State University concluded the same. In a paper entitled, Multicultural Literature that Brings People Together, Stan Seiner, Claudia Nash, and Maggie Chase embarked on a study of multicultural literacy, finding that “Students of all cultures will benefit from multicultural literature in the classroom for numerous reasons: it provides an opportunity for all children to see themselves in literature, fosters development and positive self esteem, prevents people from feeling isolated, and it cultivates respect, empathy, and acceptance of all people.”
In short — as the title of their paper suggests — words, via literature, draw people close.
Thomas DeVere and Dan Griman seem to agree. Writing in the book, Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age, they state, “Literature brings us together in ways that help us share our humanity, to understand other, and ‘the other.’ Great works of literature bring us a shared understanding of our world and our place in it. They provide a glimpse of the worlds that are past, worlds that are to come, and worlds of imagination.”
And literature isn’t just for students. In a Guardian article, writer, Liz Bury, states, “Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.”
Bury continues, “What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.”
Literature can create a culture of community — young and old, helping individuals understand, sympathize, and provide insight into the human race. Literature is the lens of seeing life in our self and others.
So with all the good that literature and reading affords people, why are reading rates falling in some populations ? Maybe technology is to blame. UCLA researcher, Patricia Greenfield, suggests it might. She analyzed how technology is producing a decline in critical thinking. Greenfield states, “reading skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while visual skills have improved” . Greenfield continues, “No one medium is good for everything. If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops.”
In the long run, it’s hard to tell why some populations have decreased in reading.
But blaming technology may be too premature. And rather spending too much time finding a cause (which is important), be proactive and find a cure: start a reading or study group based upon a book.
To do so, here’s a short acronym to help you READ:
R—reach out. Find people interested in similar topics and genres. The Internet, church, community centers, and your neighborhood are the best starting place.
E—encourage. Once you’ve found a core group of like-minded enthusiasts, encourage them to meet on a regular basis to discuss a book. Choose the book as a group and jump in. Determine the day, time, and criteria of your meeting.
A—assess and analyze. As you read the book, discuss the salient points, analyzing them in light of your groups dynamic. If you so choose, use a book like How To Read A Book Like a Professor to help guide the process . Or use Tips For Book Discussion from the ilovelibraries group .
D—delight. Delight in the sheer joy of reading with other people, finding common ground and points of reference that help generate, what I call, the three “E’s” of reading: empathize, enlighten, and encouragement, discovering what makes us human.
In the end, reading helps us appreciate the amazement and awe of living. For as William Nicholson, who wrote in the screenplay for the TV movie Shadowlands (based on the life of C.S Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidson), said, “We read to know that we’re not alone.”
3) Gilford Press, New York, London. Pages 167-168.
Photo captions: 1) Richard Weikart. 2) Reading a book. 3) Old books. 4) An important slogan. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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