‘We read to know we are not alone,’ – the character of C.S. Lewis says this line in William Nicholson’s play, Shadowlands. And you’ve no doubt heard it as one of those reached-for slogans during this time of hardship. The thing is – it’s true, and speaks of our basic human nature to just connect.
Australians maybe know that more instinctively than anyone; since all of us walk on the lands of the world’s oldest civilisation, and Indigenous rock-drawings are the oldest unbroken tradition of art in the world. Its purpose – like so much of art – is to tell our stories, remember our culture, and keep a memory alive across space and time. That’s become more important than ever as we each reach for some form of art to get us through this loneliness (even those of us lucky to be isolated with family, can feel lonely when so much of our world is in forced-fragments). Be it a television show, movie, music, book, audiobook, podcast, painting – whatever the artform, just know it’s about connection. It’s telling us that we are not alone, and it’s reminding us what it is to be human. That’s the power of story – and it’s proven to make us better people both emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Reading helps foster empathy – Italian studies showed that children who read Harry Potter were more empathetic towards marginalised groups because they started to better understand the perspective of marginalized people, in both fictional and real-life settings. Reading is also found to decrease blood pressure, lower heart rate, and reduce stress to significant degrees. According to a 2009 study at the University of Sussex, stress is reduced up to 68% just by reading. And especially at a time when our brains are being overloaded with new (and stressful!) information on a daily basis, you may start to feel the effects in your short-term memory. Well, reading can help there too – it’s proven to help slow down cognitive decline and is mentally stimulating overall. And all these facts apply to physical books as much as audiobooks – since a study also showed there was no significant difference between reading or listening to a book in terms of comprehension.
But really – we read to know that we are not alone. And if you need reminding of that; crack open an old favourite, or discover it in a new format like audiobook. Find that feeling of coming home to find beloved characters, like they’re old friends. Walk familiar plotted paths and take comfort in remembering the way. Read, and find that you’re never truly alone – because there’s also someone out there who wrote the words that you connected with, who shared their thoughts and feelings with you too – even across space and time. And they’ll be right there, waiting for you.