Friday, February 1, 2008

Reading With the Left Brain

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.


Steven Francis Murphy said...

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert Heinlein had that effect on me. I wanted a slightly used spacesuit from the Goodyear tire company. I read that for the first time in the second grade.

I tried to read it again a couple of years and found that the 'magic' was gone.

But the memory was still there and I suppose that is what counts.

S. F. Murphy

Steven Francis Murphy said...

"a couple of years ago."

Apparently getting published hasn't improved my own personal proof reading skills. Sorry.

S. F. Murphy

Luke said...

Stories I read as a child thrilled me in a way that I just can't get from reading anymore.

Murph- Asimov's now says that I'm on a "rotating black hole list" now, so don't feel so bad.

Nancy Kress said...

What is a "rotating black hole list"?

Luke said...

Oops, I meant "real-time black hole list"-- got the jargon wrong.

It appears that there's a problem with random banning on the Asimov's forum.

Sarah said...

I loved The Boxcar Children, too! Other childhood favorites were My Side of the Mountain (interestingly, also about a child running away and surviving by himself) and The Secret Garden. As you say, these books are dear childhood memories for me.

Also, hello! I haven't commented before but I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I always find your comments on writing process very interesting. :)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, I am delighted you remember the Boxcar Children too. Read it in the third grade, I guess. That was a good crew! They took care of themselves and THEY DID NOT HAVE TO DO HOMEWORK!

I wonder if some of the appeal of the book was for little souls who just started to wonder what they might do without Mommy and Daddy.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Aw, S.F., can't you recall the peril when the Human Race was being judged? Kip and Peewee and the Roman legionaire, Iunio? Who had just enough! (paraphrasing):

He let fly with his javelin. It fell short.

But I think he broke the Olympic record.

"I'll show you a Roman's grave! Piled high with Caesar's enemies!"

And later:

We didn't =know= any other races. Dogs...maybe dogs would.

Just this: I guess you can take away our star, and maybe you will. We'll =make= a star. And we'll hunt you down. All of you.

That's telling them, Kip! That's telling them!

A fine, fine book. Heinlein's juveniles, only CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY is better. Which deserved a Hugo. Hmmm, why didn't it get one? Oh, yeah! His "adult" novel, DOUBLE STAR, won that year.

Kevin W. said...

Timely subject for this week...a good friend is taking a class in Children's Lit and the text includes an excerpt from "A Wrinkle in Time", the first SF which caught my 8 year-old fancy. Many years have since gone by but the original still has that sense of wonder for me. R.I.P. to Madeleine L'Engle, who we lost recently.