You can read your way to a better working brain—and build moral character at the same time.
This may be an embarrassing admission for a grown man, but I have a box full of old comic books that I refuse to throw out, sell or even give away. I've been saving them for years to give to my son when he is old enough to read. But has reading become so out-of-style that he won't even bother with them when the time comes? We live in the digital age! Why read when audio and video clips are available anywhere, anytime? And what should we read?
The need to read
All of us need to read. Not only can it be fun, but it's good for our brains! Our brain processes information obtained from different media in different ways. It remains fairly passive when dealing with video on a screen, but when you read, your brain kicks into high gear and works in an entirely different way. In a book on this subject titled Amusing Ourselves to Death , author Neil Postman asserts that the way your brain works while reading is not just different, it's better.
Reading requires interactive, intellectual involvement. Watching a screen does not. It's as simple as that.
Comic books beat television!
We can help our brains even more by purposely managing what we put into them. Believe it or not, reading comic books helps our brains more than watching television! And a variety of reading helps far more.
This is important to think about for those of us who live in areas where summer vacation from school will soon begin. When class assignments no longer force you to read certain things, will you spend the vacation months feeding your brain a good variety of intellectual food?
A recent study of academic achievement found that over summer break many students tend to lose much of the academic progress they gained during the school year. A statistical analysis presented in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success showed two good ways to prevent intellectual loss in our brains. They are:
• Continue going to school during the vacation period—a solution that would probably not be very popular with most students.
• Actively work your brain on your own throughout the vacation. Activity programs at camps and museums and visits to historical sites and nature preserves provide great opportunities.
Or you can read! It's an inexpensive and easy way to develop and preserve your brainpower and be on top of your game when school restarts.
School vacation reading list
Good summer reading includes a variety of material. Visit your local library or bookstore and stroll up and down the aisles to begin building your list. Find some novels, perhaps action-adventure or high drama—being careful of course to avoid anything that glorifies immorality or promotes wrong values. A self-improvement book could be useful, as might a how-to manual. Works based on scientific or social research, such as those referenced above, can be quite interesting. And don't forget to include some poetry. Good poetry can lift your spirits, and its rhythms are—you guessed it—good for your brain!
Finally, let me suggest one more book to add to your school break reading list that truly has something for every taste and is truly for everyone. It's the Bible .
Read the Bible
The Bible already has all the genres I just mentioned, and it has the benefit of also being the Word of God that can lead you closer to Him. Do you like high adventure? How about a story in which the son of a king plots to overthrow his father? The story of King David and his son Absalom is filled with political intrigue and family tension, and it reaches a climax with a tumultuous battle. It's all there in the book of 2 Samuel. Do you want to read some self-improvement tips? The book of Proverbs is just what you need. In it King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, gives a wealth of inspired advice on how to organize your life, avoid painful lessons, get the most out of life, get along with other people and love God.
Speaking of other people, if you want to explore some of the great philosophical questions of all time, devote some time to the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. What makes for a happy life? Is there life after death? Why do good people sometimes suffer, while evil people seem to prosper? The answers are right there.
While you're in that section of Scripture, you'll notice that the book of Psalms is a large collection of lyric poetry written in several different styles. In the quest for other biblical poetry, most of Exodus 15 is a song of triumph to celebrate deliverance from slavery. Likewise, Judges 5 records the lyrics of a song celebrating victory in battle. The previous chapter gives the prose version of the story. Think how beneficial it would be for your brain if you analyzed and compared the two versions.
Of course the Bible also provides lots of my favorite type of reading—biography and history. You can read the life stories of famous people like Moses, King David, the apostle Paul and, of course, Jesus! The books of Joshua and Judges are full of military history, not to mention some stories of individual heroics that were captivating enough to make me put the comic books aside years ago.
Along with reading the Bible, you can also read material to help you understand it better—such as this magazine. The publishers of Vertical Thought have also produced and offer free of charge many booklets you might add to your reading list. One you can use as a study guide about the Bible is called How to Understand the Bible . It and other Bible study aid booklets are available on request or to read online at VerticalThought.org . Still, as helpful as biblical literature is, it's no substitute for reading Scripture itself, the very Word of God.
The best reading
That brings us back to where I started. Compared to watching videos on the computer and television, even reading comic books seems like too much work for most people looking for entertainment. But remember, reading is good for your brain, and a better brain will give you advantages in school, your career and just about every aspect of your life.
Reading anything will give you a cerebral advantage, but reading the Bible and material to help you understand it will make you a better person. This doesn't need to be the only thing on your reading list. Enjoy a variety of good reading, but make sure to include a lot of the best and most important reading of all—the Bible.