Friday, 12 August 2016

Living for Literature

Interesting couple of articles recently.

“When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.”

And it does appear to be fiction, rather than factual journals, that make the difference, helping us to enter a state of deep reading. This is the point at which books can bend our brains and contribute to evolutionary processes.

As the article goes on to say:

The benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them. 

The other article I thought was interesting: The mystery of why you can't remember being a baby.

This gaping hole in the record of our lives has been frustrating parents and baffling psychologists, neuroscientists and linguists for decades. It was a minor obsession of the father of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, who coined the phrase ‘infant amnesia’ over 100 years ago.

I explore this issue in one of my earlier novels, Lucid:

When a parent dies, you don’t just lose them, you lose part of who you are. Other people come and go through your life. Most of them you don’t meet until halfway through. But parents are there from the very beginning. They were there through all of the things you can’t remember. They were there even before you had memory. It’s all those conversations beginning with ‘do you remember...’ that die with them. There are parts of your life, of who you are, of what made you you, that cannot be accessed alone; that need someone else to return you to that moment in time.

It’s scary how little of life we remember, and how much relevance we place on those precious fragments that we do. They become our anchor in this void of transient oblivion.

What did you have for breakfast this day two years ago? If you don’t remember, does that mean it never happened?

The answer might be ‘because it’s unimportant’, but isn’t it funny the things that are important. Little moments of childhood, the tone of somebody’s voice, the look in someone’s eye, an experience, a heated exchange, and, in between all of those muddy remembrances, the half-imagined things which leave us with only a sense of something having happened.

I was having a conversation with my friend Jo the other day. I asked whether she was worried that all of the places she visits with her daughter are going to be forgotten, and Jo said something very interesting. She feels that her daughter will remember more of her childhood than you or me, because of the digital age in which we live. Photographs and video clips act as external memory. When we see them, we often remember so much more about the time and place they were taken than we would if there was no visual prompt. She says her daughter already looks at photographs and recalls who was there at the time and what they were doing.

Memory is such a fascinating subject.

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