Read­ing is sci­enti � ically proven to strengthen your mind— and may also in­crease hap­pi­ness. Make it a pri­or­ity with these strate­gies.

Martha Stewart Living - - Contents -

Watson (it has 215,765 mem­bers and count­ing). So far, they’ve read ti­tles like The Color Pur­ple, by Alice Walker; Hunger: A Me­moir of (My) Body, by Rox­ane Gay; and How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Mo­ran.

For good rec­om­men­da­tions with­out a com­mit­ment (and to delve into gen­res you’re not nor­mally drawn to), ex­plore what Lucas calls “the book ternet,” and find blogs like par­nas­sus­mus­, from Nash­ville’s Par­nas­sus Books own­ers Ann Patch­ett and Karen Hayes; brain­pick­, by Maria Popova; and, cre­ated by Grove At­lantic and Elect ric Lit­er­a­ture. The site themil­ pre­views note­wor­thy re­leases and does monthly top-10 lists. And pod­casts such as Book Riot and What Should I Read Next? fea­ture lively lit­er­ary dis­cus­sions. Or tune into The Great Amer­i­can Read, an eight-part PBS se­ries in which evan­ge­lists in­clud­ing au­thor Mar­garet At­wood, ac­tress Lau­ren Gra­ham, and Game of Thrones writer Ge­orge R. R. Martin dis­cuss beloved nov­els and in­vite view­ers to vote for their fa­vorite at pbs .org/the-great-amer­i­can-read. (The win­ner will be an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 23.) Then pay it for­ward—and be­come the book whisp erer in your cir­cle—by shar­ing your picks on so­cial me­dia (see Share Your Fa­vorites, be­low) or, a site that lets you track what you’ve read on a vir­tual shelf, up­load re­views, and cor­resp ond with other book­worms. (Kids can log onto bib­liona­, a sim­i­lar com­mu­nity for chil­dren.)

Re­visit the li­brary Sup­port­ing in­die book­stores is al­ways wor­thy, but for an end­less feast of free reads, head to your lo­cal tem­ple of lit­er­a­ture, the pub­lic li­brary. Even more in­stantly grat­i­fy­ing: Down­load the e-reader app Libby, which lets you link mul­ti­ple li­brary cards and bor­row both au­dio­books and e-books (which you can en­joy on your smart­phone or Kin­dle). Now, rather than scrolling past an­other food pic or celebrity selfie while on the move, you can be with Mrs. Dal­loway as she buys the flow­ers her­self. An­other effortless idea: Do reg­u­lar swaps with friends and co­work­ers to keep your read­ing mo­men­tum go­ing.

To ex­pand this idea to your neigh­bor­hood, start a Lit­tle Free Li­brary, which is just what it sounds like: a cute, durable, freest and­ing box of books for the bor­row­ing, marked with the motto “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” Todd H. Bol built the first one in Wis­con­sin in 2009, to honor his late mother. To­day there are al­most 75,000 of them in more than 85 coun­tries. “We’re at over 50 mil­lion books a year, which makes us as big as the New York Pub­lic Li­brary sys­tem and the Li­brary of Congress com­bined,” says Bol. Find one near you at lit­tle­freel­i­, or cre­ate your own by buy­ing a kit or re­pur­pos­ing a roomy bird­house or small shed and reg­is­ter­ing on the site.

And if you’re a fan of sub­scrip­tion ser­vices—think Stitch Fix or Birch­box—con­sider the Book of the Month Club (tagline: “Read. Love. Re­peat.”), which is 92 years old but thor­oughly mod­ern. It cost s about the price of a pa­per­back per month, and mem­bers get to se­lect from five re­cently pub­lished, smartly cu­rated ti­tles.

Leap off the page . . . and into your com­mu­nity. Through an ini­tia­tive called the NEA Big Read, the Na­tional

En­dow­ment for the Arts sup­ports 75 groups across the coun­try that im­ple­ment com­mu­nity pro­grams based on a shared book, such as st ag­ing a show in­spired by a novel, or host­ing an au­thor for a lect ure. To ap­ply for a grant, rally your town­ship, school dist rict, li­brary, or lo­cal non­profit to come up with a book and cor­re­spond­ing project, and fill out the ap­pli­ca­tion. (For a list of book se­lect ions, along with dis­cus­sion ques­tions, go to­tional-ini­tia­tives/ nea-big-read.)

Sim­i­larly, the Lit­tle Free Li­brary helps in­di­vid­u­als launch “act ion book clubs,” for which you se­lect ti­tles that link to a com­mu­ni­ty­ser­vice project. For a re­cent theme, “Ev­ery­day Heroes,” sug­gest ions in­cluded Farmer Will Allen and the Grow­ing Ta­ble, by Jac­que­line Briggs Martin; and The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve, along with projects such as plant­ing a com­mu­nity gar­den and do­nat­ing to the lo­cal food bank. The cur­rent theme is “Come To­gether,” and the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s list in­cludes There, There, by Tommy Orange, for adults; and The Har­lem Cha­rade, by Natasha Tarp­ley, for kids.

Fall into fic­tion We love bi­ogra­phies and his­tor­i­cal tomes as much as the next au­to­di­dact. But nov­els— par­tic­u­larly lit­er­ary fict ion, which delves deep into a char­ac­ter’s thoughts and mo­ti­va­tions—serve a unique pur­pose: They re­quire us to think about what it’s like to be in some­one else’s shoes. “Read­ing nov­els ex­er­cises a part of your brain called the default-mode net­work, which de­te­ri­o­rates in cases of Alzheimer’s dis­ease and other men­tal-health dis­or­ders,” says John Hut­ton, M.D., an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Read­ing & Lit­er­acy Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter of the Cincin­nati Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal. “That net­work is ac­ti­vated when you use your imag­i­na­tion to bring a story to life.” Ad­di­tion­ally, a 2013 Univer­sity of Toronto st udy showed that short-story read­ers could be more creative and open-minded than par­tic­i­pants who read non­fic­tion es­says. And re­searchers at the New School in New York City found that af­ter read­ing lit­er­ary fic­tion, st udy par­tic­i­pants scored higher on a test that re­quired them to in­fer other peo­ple’s men­tal states than those who read pop fic­tion or non­fic­tion did. All of which points to the no­tion that em­pa­thy is a mus­cle you need to ac­tively keep strong and flex­i­ble. Imag­ine how much kinder the world might be if ev­ery­one read fict ion.


Be­gin at birth The most crit­i­cal years for brain de­vel­op­ment are from 0 to 3 years old. Read­ing aloud to chil­dren from in­fancy not only helps them de­velop lan­guage and early-lit­er­acy skills; it’s an­other kind of cud­dle time that com­forts them by en­gag­ing their minds and their imag­i­na­tions. Rec­og­niz­ing this, in 1989 two pe­di­a­tri­cians at Bos­ton Med­i­cal Cen­ter launched Reach Out and Read, which pro­vides books (like Mar­garet Wise Brown’s clas­sic Good­night Moon and John Step­toe’s Mu­faro’s Beauti

ful Daugh­ters) to doc­tors, who then give them to par­ents, st art­ing at new­borns’ check­ups, along with a pre­scrip­tion to read to­gether. To­day, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is na­tion­wide and has given 7.2 mil­lion books to 4.7 mil­lion chil­dren. “Reach Out and Read used to start at the 6-month visit,” says Le­ora Mogilner, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at the Ic­ahn School of Medicine at Mount Si­nai Hospi­tal, in New York City, who has been in­volved with the pro­gram for more than 20 years. “As more and more re­search has come out about the im­pact

that a child’s early en­vi­ron­ment has on the brain and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment, we re­al­ized that we needed to start sooner.”

Mogilner says the pract ice should evolve with your baby. “With in­fants, let them hold the book, chew on it,” she says. “Point things out, la­bel things; that’s how chil­dren as­so­ciate pict ures with words and learn vo­cab­u­lary. Have tod­dlers choose the book—it’s a tool you can give them to have con­trol over their en­vi­ron­ment. Ask ques­tions: Where is the dog, where is the cat? Use the book to gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion and foster cu­rios­ity— it could be a win­dow into a world that chil­dren may not have ac­cess to.”

If you don’t have kids, or yours are grown up, make a dif­fer­ence by sign­ing up to be a reader at se­lect pe­di­atric clin­ics, or col­lect ing books to do­nate to wait­ing rooms through Reach Out and Read. More great re­sources: Read­ing Part­ners and AARP Foun­da­tion’s Ex­pe­ri­ence Corps both train vol­un­teers to help tu­tor chil­dren with read­ing in schools.

Fill their world with books Whether they’re your own or bor­rowed from the li­brary, their mere pres­ence in the home can work won­ders. A 2010 Univer­sity of Ne­vada st udy showed that hav­ing a large col­lect ion has a greater ef­fect on the level of ed­u­ca­tion a child will at­tain than whether her par­ents are rich or poor, univer­sity grads or high school dropouts. As few as 20 can make an im­pact, says st udy leader and pro­fes­sor Mariah Evans. Also, lis­ten to fam­i­lyfriendly au­dio­books in the car, take kids to age-ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor read­ings, and con­tinue read­ing aloud to older kids as a com­fort­ing rit­ual. In De­cem­ber, adopt the Ice­landic Christ mas tra­di­tion of Jólabókaflóð: giv­ing fam­ily mem­bers books as presents.

But sim­plest of all, be the reader you want your chil­dren to be. Let them see you get as ex­cited about turn­ing a page as you are about turn­ing on the TV, be­cause “chil­dren who grow up in house­holds where read­ing is mod­eled and val­ued are go­ing to want to read as well,” says Hut­ton, who is also spokes­doc­tor for Read Aloud 15 Min­utes, a cam­paign founded by Cincin­nati-based phar­ma­cist Can­dace Ken­dle.

Spread the word In cities across the coun­try, the Na­tional Book Foun­da­tion is work­ing to get books into the hands of low-in­come kids and fam­i­lies. Its Book Rich En­vi­ron­ments ini­tia­tive dist ributes free vol­umes, do­nated by pub­lish­ers to pub­lic-hous­ing au­thor­i­ties, who then give them out at hous­ing units, li­braries, and com­mu­nity cen­ters so all chil­dren can lose them­selves in a story. And the foun­da­tion’s BookUp pro­gram hires authors to lead af­ter­school read­ing groups and bring mid­dle-school­ers on field trips to li­braries and stores, even giv­ing them a stipend to fill up their own shelves at home. A donation of $100 will buy a se­mes­ter’s worth of books (about 12 ti­tles) for a child’s per­sonal col­lect ion; go to na­tion­al­book .org for more in­for­ma­tion.

“We’re not a lit­er­acy pro­gram per se,” says Lucas about BookUp. “We’re fo­cus­ing on the ac­cess and the joy part. It’s about say­ing, ‘This is a beau­ti­ful ob­ject that con­tains a story that re­lates to me, and I know that I can find within the cov­ers of a book more sto­ries through­out my life that will teach me and de­light me and carry me.’” And once that pas­sion is ig­nited, she adds, it’s in­fec­tious. “Every reader brings more with her.”

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