Looking for a Reason to Read? | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.07.2004
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Looking for a Reason to Read?

Reading is on its way out. Sounds sad? It is, but if psychologists are to be believed, it's just a temporary phenomenon. Reading simply has too many advantages, they say. If only you can find the time for it.


Some will go to any lengths to indulge in a good read

The book industry in Germany is lamenting the "general reluctance of consumers to loosen their purse strings." The United States is threatening to become a nation of non-readers. According to one study, not even every second adult there reads novels, letalone poetry.

It's a dire situation in need of remedy.

Ups and downs

But before succumbing to despair, it might be worthwhile listening to Thomas Anz, professor of psychology at the University of Marburg who's researched the psychology of reading and authored a book called "Literature and Enjoyment -- the Ups and Downs of Reading."

Frau ließt ein Buch

A woman reads a book

Anz has concluded that reading is the "joy of being blown away", a kind of trance situation, from which a person can switch back to reality anytime.

Reading, says Anz, is the hunger for tension, for laughter, the horrible and the shocking. In other words, it's the joy of emotions.

But reading is also the joy of discovering intellectual links and references. "Reading is like a game that the reader shares with the author," says Anz. Even the writing of a book is closely related to the pleasure of playing a game, he adds.

"Much like other games, one has to train the "reading" game," says the psychologist and adds that the better one trains, the smoother the reading experience is. "Many give up in the training phase and don't reach the real pleasure level of reading."

Linked to social approval

Just because fewer people are taking time to read doesn't automatically mean there's a crisis brewing.

The significance of reading to a society has historically been linked to social approval. In the 18th century Europe, reading was considered a highly immoral addiction. At the time, only about 10 percent of all Europeans could read. Knowledge and culture was largely transmitted through the theatre.

Now, Anz expects reading to come into vogue again as a sort of backlash against the excessive presence of television, videos, and films in western society.

"Today reading is considered necessary in western society, and people consider too much video-watching as alarming," said Anz.

Harry-Potter-Fans am Kieler Hauptbahnhof vor einer historischen Dampflok

Young Harry Potter fans read in front of a 1942-built locomotive at the Kiel railway station on Nov. 8, 2003

The psychologist is certain that the joy of reading will make a comeback, even if it's kids hungry for the next Harry Potter adventure who at the fore of the turnaround.

After all, it was Harry's creator, J.K. Rowling who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh because her novels proved to have the magic touch that could lure youngsters away from the small screen, and back to books.

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