It must be running in your bloodstream, the love for books.
I don’t believe that it is something you acquire over time. It must be in your DNA code, something you’ve born with, like the color of your eyes or that moll on your cheek. You’re born with, blessed with, then it runs through your blood, like a virus.
When I say love for books I do not mean enjoying books and reading, that’s love of books, fondness, liking the way you like something you glance at. By love for books I mean needing books. Needing to read them, to hold them, to own them, to surround oneself with them. Like an addict.
I hear people saying, ‘I like to read, but I don’t have enough time so I read just a bit.’
Those with the virus, with love for books, don’t have to make time. And you see them every day, nights too. Mornings are the best, surprising them with a book in hand. They don’t need an ideal reading spot, or silence or background music. They can read everywhere, in the subway, the bus, the train, in a crowded room, and sometimes even during in class.
And you do know how their homes look like too. I don’t mean bookshelves, but stacked with books.
People with a love for books always carry a book with them the way others hold their cellphone or fashionable ladies carry their emergency cosmetic bag. But those with a love for books are fearless. They do not worry that they will miss a call, or a message, or a Tweet, or that their beauty will smudge during the day. They do fear, though, that the thin paper layer protecting their souls will get damaged throughout the day, exposing them to noise, to wickedness, to mental pollution.
You see, people with a love for books, those who carry that book virus in their bloodstream, need a periodic shot, call it chronic medication, of reading. Of living elsewhere for a short while so that they can survive in the present. Of accumulating life experience so that they can share it with the rest. Of laughing or crying elsewhere, so that they can compare it to the laughing and the crying from the real world and clarifying, once and for all, how original life can be.
For only when life is conveyed into a book will that book be cradled and read by someone with a love for books, and afterwards explained to others.
You see now why writers need readers with a love for books just as much as those with a love for books need books.
‘Literature is the most pleasant way of ignoring life.’
I believe that, just as each one of us has a story to tell, each animal has one, too. It all comes down to the POV (point of view).
As humans, our cultural background and experiences influence the way we understand and interact with the world. We see and perceive animals from a rather self-centered, oblivious point of view, based on personal (humanoid) knowledge (as a human), EQ (emotional intelligence) and, of course, inhibitions and phobias. But there are millions of animal species known to man, out of which over 5 000 species are mammals. Chances are we will only meet and interact with a fraction of them.
About dogs (world’s most popular pets), we known that they respond to human praise, but also choosehuman praise over a food treat. We know that they miss their (human) owners and often suffer when they are away from them. In Kenya, elephant families have been observed to pull together while struggling to survive drought and poaching. In other parts of the world wolf packs have been observed to adopt the cubs left without parents. A calve will stay with its dolphin mother as long as eight years; because they are so social, dolphins live in pods of up to 1000 members. That’s a small town!
Now let’s change the point of view.
How do animals perceive us? As friends or as enemies? What do animals feel? They do look angry at times, they seem to grief, to show empathy, to feel joy. But what goes through their minds? What goes through a dog’s mind (and heart) when one of his puppies is removed from the litter? What is a mother elephant actually saying when she rumbles and trumpets to protect her calf? I love listening to the morning birds, their chirp is peaceful and soothing, but what are they actually saying to each other?
Do animals have beliefs of their own? Do they act on intend? Do they use their knowledge and plan ahead? And if they do so, are we, humans, really “getting it” or do we miss the point all together?
Perhaps our children are the ones closest to finding an answer. Children are naturally open to this concept of “theory of mind” (the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and to others), as well as to learning about it. Attributing an animal desires and intents similar to their own is a characteristic behavior for a child. Children are tuned in and they do “get” the animals’ language.
The fact that children attempt eye contact more often than grown-ups might also facilitate a kid’s closer understanding of animal language. Eye contact between humans and dogs is paramount for a successful social interaction between the two as dogs rely on eye contact when establishing if the communication is relevant and directed at them. Dogs, especially, establish eye contact when they cannot solve a problem on their own.
Watching animals interact and understanding them is a learning curve for any human. It is an exercise on acknowledging that human race is not as superior as we like to believe. Animals do experience the same love and empathy as we do, but they certainly lack the hatred and the grudge that tends to overshadow and hinder us. Perhaps that one of the ways to reduce poaching and animal trafficking is through raising the bar in our knowledge of the animal world around us.
You be the judge, is the theory of mind and the idea that each animal has a story to tell valid?
I’ll end Theory of Mind, Each Animal Has a Story to Tell with this quote from one of my books:
“There was still a cloud of brown dust hovering around the Marines’ khaki shorts, tinting the scene in shades of sepia; a herd of stallions panting, their ears attend, nostrils quivering in expectation.
One of the Marines had picked up the ball, popping it between his arm and hip. Tara’s tail wagged, recognizing her partner and human handler, Seb.
Another Marine slapped Seb’s shoulder in a friendly manner and it was Xena’s turn to snort, recognizing Conde.
Dancing on the spot, Tara blew air through her nose and yapped at Honda in the next cage. Rambo spun around, pacing along the fence. Will Kent get a turn at holding the ball? Will he?
Only Honda cracked a sleepy eye, her tail sweeping the ground once before rolling over onto her back, snorting. Honda enjoyed action as much any dog, but she also knew that the humans did a lot of talking before any action would begin. Until she would sniff Dunn approaching her cage, Honda couldn’t be bothered.”
We, the writers, are sure that you, the readers, do not need a special invitation or inspiration to read, to lose yourself into a book. As a reader, you are certainly aware of the importance of reading throughout your life. If you’ve been bewitched a long time ago or not, if you’ve known times abundant in glorious novels or battled with dry spells, you surely felt that reading will always remain a defining part of your life.
For writers, however, reading is an absolute necessary, a sine qua non condition of the very life of an author. For the invaluable influence that great writers have on our subconscious mind; for the steady flow of ideas that fill the well we only glance into, on a moon-less night; for the dull technique… writers read.
And not only…
I believe that all visual arts are, to some extent, influenced by literature, thus complementing one other. Architecture or a painting can be the perfect backdrop for poetry or a literary work whose author, in return, was influenced by a work of art.
Below I have gathered, for readers everywhere, a series of quotes about the essential act of reading. Some you will recognize for sure; some I hope will become your favorites. Others, I hope, you will return to again and again, like I do.
‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’ Erasmus of Rotterdam
‘It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own.’ – Arthur Conan Doyle
‘The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries.’ – Descartes
‘There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away.’ – Emily Dickinson
‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.’ Joyce Carol Oates
‘You should never just read for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior; or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth.’ John Waters
‘For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.’ Anne Lamott
‘I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.’ Ray Bradbury
‘ A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.’ Susan Sontag
‘Knowingyou have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.’ Vladimir Nabokov
‘By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.’ Kurt Vonnegut
‘We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.’ Henry Miller
‘To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.’ W. Somerset Maugham
‘From the reading of ‘good books’ there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way.’ – Gordon B. Hinckley
‘Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.’ Harper Lee
‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ C.S. Lewis
‘You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.’ Ray Bradbury
‘You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.’ Ray Bradbury
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Below are a few stories focused on unbelievable dogs who contributed to the enrichment of scientific data, the settlement of conflicts, and the onset of real state crises.
Peritas, Alexander the Great’s dog
From 356 BC comes Peritas, the puppy with a name worthy of the companion of a true leader. Peritas was Alexander the Great‘s dog, some call him a gladiator dog, who accompanied him during his military exploits. The name Peritas seems to come from the Macedonian word for January.
During the attack of the Persian troops of Darius III on Alexander the Great, Peritas jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master. Due to his faithful servant, Alexander survived and carried on his dream of conquering the world through.
Peritas could have been a Molossian, a breed of ancient Greece believed to be the the ancestor of the Mastiff. But Peritas could have also been the greyhound that Alexandre brought up himself.
Donnchadh, Robert the Bruce’s dog
Donnchadh was the dog of Robert I of Scotland, or Robert the Bruce. It is said that what inspired Robert to never give up was watching a spider spin its web, while others say it was his dog.
In 1306, Edward I of England was fighting to overthrow Robert because who was advocating for Scottish independence. Edward had already captured Robert’s wife and faithful dog, so he came up with a devious plan. He was going to use Donnchadh, Robert’s own dog, to track him and catch him. Unaware, Donnchadh did led the king to the target, but then he turned on the English soldiers, defending his master. Robert escaped and lived to be King of Scotland for two decades.
Although four centuries later, the actions of the reckless George III, a direct descendant of Robert, who passed an act taxing tea in the colonies was the seed that bothered the American settlers enough to revolt. So this is how a Scottish doggo is one of the dogs who made and changed the history – of the United States, in his case.
Urian, Cardinal Wolsey’s dog
14th centuryUrian is said to have been the dog that determined the rupture between England and the papacy.
Wishing to separate from Catherine of Aragon (who could not produce a son and heir), King Henry VIII sent Cardinal Wolsey (lord chancellor and chief adviser), to discuss with Pope Clement VII his marriage annulment. Cardinal Wolsey brought his beloved dog Urian along. When the Pope, who supposedly was siting on his throne, extended his big toe to be kissed by the Cardinal, as it was customary, Urian mistook the scene for an attempt at his beloved master’s safety. And he took a mouthful at the Pope’s foot. Needless to say, Henry lost any chance at an annulment.
Because of the Catholic Church’s refusal, Henry later founded the Anglican Church, declared himself head of the Church of England and appointed his own clerics who, of course, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid. Apparently Urian was a greyhound.
The Silent Hero puppy who saved Napoleon Bonaparte
Even though he is an anonymous hero, I believe that the puppy who saved Napoleon from drowning in 1815, right after his escape from Elba Island where he’d been imprisoned by the Allies, deserves to be included among the other dogs who made and changed the world history. Perhaps this Newfoundland pup played one of the biggest roles in the history of Europe and that of the world.
Napoleon was aboard the Inconstant, a brig of about 300 tons, sailing over a rough Ligurian sea, when he fell overboard. A fisherman and his young but sturdy doggo were on board and the canine followed his instincts, jumping in the foaming waters to rescue the 41 years old Napoleon. Napoleon entered triumphant in Paris, but one hundred days later he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled by the British to St. Helena island where he lived till his death, six years later.
Waterloo was the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history, as after Waterloo and until the start of WW1 Europe witnessed a short time of peace, prosperity and progress.
Smoky, the dog given a second chance during WWII
Smoky was a hairball, a Yorkshire Terrier with a huge heart who contributed to the new US Air Force base during World War II. Smoky was found in an abandoned foxhole in Papua New Guinea by the American soldiers stationed there and was adopted on the spot. When the company moved to the Philippines during the island hopping, Smoky moved too. So it happened that the soldier who had to set base at Luzon had to pull a telegraph wire and the only way to do it was through a narrow, 21-metre pipe. And Smoky helped, being just the right size to crawl through with the wire attached to her collar.
The airbase remained safe and operational.
Jofi, Sigmund Freud’s dog
I think that Jofi, Sigmund Freud‘s puppy, is a dog who should have been given more recognition so I’ll include him along the dogs who made and changed the history, psychoanalysis in his case. But aren’t most dogs like this? Freud often took Jofi to his office during therapy sessions, then noted his observations, convinced that Jofi helped patients relax.
Freud’s notes laid the foundations of modern animal-assisted therapy.
Charlie, the dog who helped defuse the Cuban Crisis
Charlie was a Welsh terrier and one of Kennedy family’s beloved dogs.
During the 1962 Cuban crisis (remember that the Soviet Union deployed some intercontinental ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, only 144 kilometers off the coast of U.S.) President Kennedy lived some stressful days, trying hard not to start a nuclear war. It was during one of these moments that President Kennedy asked that Charlie be brought into the overheated War Room. The president took him in his arms and caressed him, which helped him calm down. In the end, Kennedy announced that he was ready to make a decision. A decision that defused the conflict.
As a peace offering following the Cuban crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, Russian Premier at the time, gifted young Caroline Kennedy a white puppy named Pushinka, from the litter of famed space dog Strelka (part of the Sputnik space program). Pushinka and Charlie later had four puppies that Kennedy called “pupniks.”
Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave
Robot and his owner, teenager Marcel Ravidat, were exploring the surroundings of their village of Montignac, southwest France, in 1940 while France was fighting in the World War II.
Suddenly Robot spotted a rabbit, chase after it but the game was soon gone down a rabbit hole. Although it appears that the four boys were actually intrigued by an old legend about a tunnel running under the Vezere River linking the old Castel of Montignac to the Manor of Lascaux. Ravidat threw some stones down the hole and a great echo returned. A few days later the teenager returned with a few friends and with ropes and they climbed down the hole only to discover an incredible amount of colorful murals perfectly preserved within a cave. Later study showed that this artwork was in pristine state as it had been protected from water by a layer of chalk, and that the paintings had been created during the Paleolithic era, between 30,000 to 12,000 B.C.E.
Some say that Robot the dog was not the one to discover the cave, some dispute the year when the caves of Lascaux were first spotted, but it does make sense to have a dog chasing a rabbit down the rabbit whole, towards amazing wonders.
The discovery of Caves of Lascaux is crucial because it helsp us understand what stood at the center of life of our paleolithic ancestors, hunting and religious rites. That perhaps such drawing guaranteed them plentiful herds and good hunting.
Cairo, the Military Working Dog who found Osama bin Laden
Cairo was a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog, MWD, who together with his military human handler and SEAL Team Operator Will Chesney were part of the famous attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.
Navy SEAL Will Chesney met MWD Cairo in 2008 and shared many missions together in Afghanistan, forging an impenetrable bond. Working with Cairo, Chesney saw firsthand how valuable dogs are, when on multiple missions Cairo’s keen senses saved Chesney’s life and the lives of his team members. Cairo was even shot in the chest and leg, but made a full recovery and the two were deployed to Afghanistan again, they were that good and their country needed them.
In 2011 Chesney, Cairo, and a two dozen Navy SEALs team were sent after Osama bin Laden in what was known as Operation Neptune Spear. They stormed Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Chesney and Cairo were the only canine team on the mission as main job was locating hidden enemies. It was for sure the most dangerous and the biggest mission in history. None of the SEALs involved expected to survive the raid, but the thought of taking out the terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians overpowered any trace of anxiety or self-preservation.
‘Cairo always fed off everybody’s energy. Your emotions run up and down the leash. If you’re mad, the energy is going to run down that leash. For Cairo, it was just another day at work‘ (Will Chesney).
It is said that when a military dog handler puts their bullet-proof vest on, the MWD they team with knows right away they’re working, and when the human handler takes off the vest, the dog knows it is playtime again.
Cairo faced a well deserved retirement in 2013 and, finally he was adopted by his best friend Chesney. I think that you will agree that Cairo deserves a place of honor between the dogs who made and changed the history – for the good.
I wish my list was longer.T here are millions of dogs who made and changed the history, be it that of a community, of a nation or of the world, but the silent heroes that share our lives are also changing the history, with their genuine care and unconditional love, our personal history.
The vast majority write out of a desire to share their experience with other people. Sharing something imparts a feeling of usefulness. Some people say they write for pleasure, others that say they write out of a desire to inform their peers. Others say they write for the sake of competition.
Nothing in this world is done without a reason because in addition to existential needs, people need much more.
But can literature change people, providing that people want to change?
We are rational beings, we socialize and we need to express our feelings and to see them echoed in others. We need to leave a mark behind us, footprints in the sand. So we write. Some of us.
Perhaps all the reasons why people write are based on the simple pleasure of writing.
So, why do people write?
Writing is therapeutic. The white paper listens to you and does not judge you. It accepts everything you want to give, the countless revisions too, without getting upset. It doesn’t matter if you write well or bad, the simple fact of putting your thoughts on paper frees you and gives you clarity and peace of mind. At least during the present moment. When it counts.
Writing clarifies the mind. If you can’t explain something to others, then you don’t understand it very well either. As you write, you reveal the knots in your thinking and force yourself to untangle them. I know I do.
Writing helps you learn. When I research for a book I need information in addition to what I already know. I have to document myself on so many levels, setting, politics, weather, customs, folklore, lifestyle, language, so I write everything down. Doesn’t all research go like this?
Writing helps one become more creative. As I try to express myself better I think of metaphors, comparisons or examples that sometimes link different ideas, feelings or situations. An exercise such as this, done for years, helps creativity, because it becomes easier to make unexpected connections.
Writing improves the memory and sprouts new ideas and thoughts. If I go back to stories I wrote five, ten years ago, I recognize the seed of an idea I developed only recently. But also anxieties I put out of my mind, because I wrote about them. Or events that I remember differently now, in a somehow detached way.
Writing urges you to read. As Stephen King said,’ If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.’ And reading comes with its long list of benefits.
Writing teaches you to receive criticism. From mischievous comments to justified feedback, I got used to digesting everything and taking the essentials. While keeping some thoughts (and a smile) to myself.
Writing helps one become more empathetic. When I write something, anything, I have to put myself in the character’s skin, be it human or a doggo. It’s experiencing a second life while, at the same time, teaching me to take a step back and see things into perspective, while in my own skin.
Why do I write?
Writing bought me a cup of coffee, although I traded the security of a medical career for it. But it gives me the satisfaction of creating something with my own two hands (and with my mind and soul). Like baking or carpentry. Like architecture (my first love). Writing has never disappointed me and I have never felt drained, used up in an emotional way after writing. Exhausted, but energized at the same time. Okay, there are moments of despair here and now.
I write about people so as not to forget them, so as not to forget the good vibes they made me feel.
I write about people just to keep those parts of them that have managed to change certain parts of me or that have made me feel more than I thought I could feel.
Do animals experience emotions, do they show this by spontaneous changes in their behavior? And, as a result of the emotions they experience, do they have feelings?
The Incredible Friendship Between a BEAR, a LION and a TIGER
It was the beginning of the 21st century when three cubs were rescued from the home of a drug dealer where they were kept illegally as pets. Severely malnourished and scared, the salvation for an American Black bear cub, an African lion cub and a Bengal tiger cub came through Noah’s Ark Animal sanctuary.
This is when the cubs’ true friendship revealed itself. As the bear required an emergency operation, the lion and tiger cubs became agitated while their friend was gone. They refused food, paced their enclosure, vocalized and only stopped when the bear was safely returned to them. After this, the three cubs spent their entire time close together, clinging to one another for comfort and safety. They were named Baloo, Leo, and Shere Khan.
The bear, the lion and the tiger soon matured, yet they continued sharing the same habitat, playing, eating together and grooming one another. And they did so for 17 years. Sadly, Leo and Shere Khan passed away in 2016 and 2018 respectively, and Baloo was there for them in their final hours.
In the wild, Asian black bears and tigers do share the same territory in the Far East, but when they do meet, one of them is sure to be badly injured.
The Heartwarming Friendship Between a CHIMPANZEE and a DOG
There are quite a few cute chimps that struck lovely friendship with dogs, an undeniable proof that social connections between animals do mimic those between humans and their pets.
Often, when a chimp and a dog became friends it was the puppy who came to the baby chimp’s emotional rescue. Too many chimps are slaves of the illegal pet trade, and when they are finally rescued are found to be orphans.
What would happen, I asked myself, if a dog and a chimp met in the wild? Would they still play? Would they play fetch, perhaps? Pull faces at each other? Share naps?
The Unbelievable Friendship Between a CHEETAH and a DOG
Yes, cats and dogs can be friends. What about a wild cat and a canine? One such incredible pair were Kasi the cheetah and Mtani the Labrador. Mtani means “close friend” in Swahili.
What if the cheetah and the dog would meet in the wild, on the African planes? Would the mama-cheetah allow? Would the dog have human friends who would interfere with their unusual friendship?
The Amazing Friendship Between a LION and a DOG
A cute, brown Dachshund dog called Milo struck a remarkable friendship with a massive lion named Bonedigger when the latter became disabled due to illness. Somehow, the canine made its way to the sad lion’s heart and took the beast under his wing and the two remained the best of friends, even five years later. None of them cared that one weighs 11 pounds, while the other 500 pounds.
Enjoy their beautiful friendship evolving throughout the seasons:
The Loving Friendship Between an ELEPHANT and a SHEEP
Albert the sheep and Themba the elephant live in Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa. Sadly, the elephant calf became an orphan after his mother died falling down a cliff. After a rocky start… the pair’s relationship blossomed, and they became the best of friends and Themba the elephant calf blossomed.
You can follow and enjoy their adventures in this book:
I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.
Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.
Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.
Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.
You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.
The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.
A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries
Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.
Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.
Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.
And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.
The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.
The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.
It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.
19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.
World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.
Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.
What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?
A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.
Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.
Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.
The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.
Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.
How is all this possible?
Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”
So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.
And so is writing.
I will leave you with Proust’s words:
“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”