The Art of Reading
by K. M. Douglas
I wanted to share with you and your readers a series of three synchronicities that I experienced over the course of the past week. It began with a simple thought. I was contemplating how one of my goals in writing a novel was to impact readers in a profound way, one that lasted long after they had completed reading the book. A dream of mine has always been to write a book that impacted a reader in the way that some of my favorite books have impacted me in the past, leaving a lasting effect on me even to this day. Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun are the first four that come to mind.
I have always understood the responsibility that comes with writing. Readers are essentially allowing the writer access directly into their minds. Through pacing and the pulse and rhythm of the writing, it is possible to induce a trance-like state in a reader, much the same way as with music, and even to some degree film. But in film, the images accessed by the mind are already fully developed, where with reading, words are let in to the brain one by one and the imagery is then created by the reader herself. In this way, reading is also an art. The reader is an active, creative participant in the formation of the end product.
The second of the three synchronicities was the discovery of an online article entitled: Does Reading Actually Change the Brain? The article describes a study done by Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy that asked the question, How [do] stories get into your brain, and what [do] they do to it? The study used a high-tech fMRI machine to trace the brainwaves of readers. Now this had already been done in other studies. What made this study different was that the previous tests had all scanned the reader’s brains while they were reading, while this study scanned the reader’s brains for five days after the reading was completed.
Gregory Burns, a neuroscientist involved in the study said, “It remains an open question how long these neural changes might last. But the fact that we’re detecting them over a few days for a randomly assigned novel suggests that your favorite novels could certainly have a bigger and longer-lasting effect on the biology of your brain.”
And that’s when the third synchronicity took place. I found a new review on my the Amazon page for my book, In the Place Where There is No Darkness, and one of the last sentences of the review contained this flattering message: “This is just a phenomenal book and this is the kind of story that will always stay in the back of [my] mind as one of the best I’ve ever read. I encourage you to give it a try, it’s well worth reading and passing on to friends!”
Stay in the back of my mind… hmmm. I don’t know if the reviewer knew the biological truth of the statement that she made, but for me, my goal had been accomplished. And what a journey it was, contemplating my writing having a lasting impact on a reader, discovering scientific evidence that writing affects the reader even deeper than I had suspected, and then receiving the affirmation that my writing did impact a reader deeply, and all within a five day period. As a creative writer, I am thankful that my book found itself a creative reader.