Wednesday 22 June 2016

Good brain gymnastics

I was reading an article about Kurt Vonnegut, who talked in a very gruff and straightforward way about the importance of reading. I had to grin at his blunt approach. I can't remember his exact words, but here is a pretty accurate paraphrase. 'You'd be crazy not to read. Do you know all that it does for you? You get to ponder the words and ideas of people who are (or were) smarter than you. If you can benefit from other people's brains and experience or stay limited in your own head, I don't know why you'd choose the latter.'

Try telling that to the people who say, 'I don't read.' (No, maybe you shouldn't.) After a good laugh, I started thinking about possible ripple effects. I've had many 'Wow, yeah' moments after reading words which may well be the result of a particular writer adopting something another person had written in their own way. And in turn, just maybe, somebody will read something I write which gels with them. And on it will go.

What if Kurt Vonnegut was right, and self-proclaimed dummies can take on board something written by a smarty which might not have occurred to us otherwise? As we meditate on it, it may eventually come to shape our attitude, as if we'd thought of it ourselves. If you add enough 'a-ha' or 'I like that!' or 'What an epiphany!' moments from our reading lists to our empty brains, those brains have got to expand to hold them all. We become smarter, sharper people than we would have been had we never picked up books.

That's what scholarly learning is all about, anyway. Our celebrated smart people study lots of text books, think further ideas based on what they've read, then gradually become even smarter. I'm glad to think the same thing can also happen when we kick back with a good novel to relax. I like to think I'm always getting little brain-changes for the better through reading fiction. Maybe it's not always our intellect which is being stimulated, but our empathy and the broadness of our outlook. It's a wonderful thing that even the homespun wisdom in novels can do this for us.

  I also found this ancient quote by Confucius, who said, "No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." That was written centuries before Vonnegut gave his opinion, but the were both onto the same good thing.

If we get the chance to add our own take on other people's wisdom, in our own stories and reflections, it's even more of an honour.

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay. 


  1. Thanks for this reminder, Paula, of the value of reading--and writing. I was particularly touched by your very last sentence: 'If we get the chance to add our own take on other people's wisdom, in our own stories and reflections, it's even more of an honour'. I am in the midst of editing (yet again) my latest book, so to be reminded of what an honour it is to produce something that will hopefully add to someone else's wisdom was a lovely positive thought for me.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne,
      It makes all the hard work worth it. I hope you go well with the editing.

  2. Thanks for your post, Paula. Yay, for reading. I've lost count of the epiphanies, many life-changing, that I've received from reading - and I agree, fiction can exercise our empathy and broaden our experience of other people and perspectives as well as introduce to facts and ideas (I learnt a lot of history or geography through reading). It is a privilege to be able to influence others through our writing :)

    1. Hi Jenny,
      I totally agree. After all the epiphanies we have, it seems a privilege to get the chance to try and pass it on.


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