Reading about brain scans for the novella I'm currently writing, I stumbled across some interesting information about reading. Brain scans show that a child uses far more of her brain to learn to read than does an adult who already can. That makes sense. What was interesting to me is that in a proficient adult reader, all brain use during reading shifts to the left hemisphere, freeing up the right to simultaneously integrate more of his or her own thoughts and feelings into the experience of what is being read. Brain scans of poor readers and those with dyslexia suggest that this shift never takes place. So not only are poor readers slower, and must work harder, but they miss that injection of the personal into literature that makes it so important to some of us.
The first books that really impressed me were Dr. Seuss's To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, which my mother read to me, and The Boxcar Children, which I read myself. In the latter, four children run away from an orphanage, live in an abandoned boxcar, and have a wonderful time. Too young to wonder about vermin or cold or health insurance in that boxcar, I too wanted to run away and live like that, Unfortunately, my neighborhood seemed short on boxcars. But the book remained magical to me, and when I found a used copy in a bookstore forty years later, I was thrilled.
For some of us, literary memories and experiences are just as strong as "real" ones. I have friends obsessed with the computer site Second Life, but I already have a second life, in books. I really don't need a third.