Free voluntary reading and brain health

Somewhen around the end of 2020, I decided to make 2021 my year of daily reading. I was aiming for (at least) 40 minutes of Free-Voluntary-Reading per day, reading fiction and such… texts written by people who care about how their sentences turn out, like David Sedaris, Wolf Haas, Raymond Carver, George RR Martin, Friedrich Torberg, Billy Collins, Thomas Bernhard, etc.

In hindsight I can’t say whether I’ve reached that daily goal of reading…, but I guess I got some reading done, at least more than in the previous two decades.

On the other hand, in fact just yesterday, I was wondering if it was worth it, the time investment. When in fact I could have bought a Playstation 5 instead, and played apocalyptic Zombie survival games, instead. I mean, here in Vietnam I could have actually bought a PS5. SONY’s gaming console is hopelessly sold out in most other countries.

So I was thinking, with my iPad resting in my lap, the book still alit. I glanced down at the page again. “Actually, that last page went quite well,” said I to myself, in my head; however that works. “Actually, my reading out loud became a lot smoother, compared to when I started out over a year ago” And then I read another 5 or 10 pages or so, finishing Chapter 2 of Wolf Haas’s book, “Das ewige Leben.”

I recalled this table from the book “The Power Of Reading”, by neurolinguist Stephan Krashen. The book says: “The table summarizes the impact of in-school free reading programs. In each case, free readers were compared to students in traditional programs (assigned reading, grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling.)

Two findings clearly emerge from this table: First, in-school free reading programs are consistently effective. In 51 out of 54 comparisons (94 percent), readers do as well as or better than students who were engaged in traditional programs. Note that a finding of ‘No Difference’ suggests that free reading is just as good as traditional instruction.

There is also strong evidence that free reading is extremely pleasant and results in superior general knowledge. Even if free reading were equivalent to direct instruction in terms of literacy development, it should therefore be the preferred option.”

Oh, and there’s something else I’ve noticed. All this reading of fiction for more than a year, it seems to have the same effects as Crop Rotation on what I think is my brain. Sort of. “Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure,” says Wikipedia.

Somehow, it seems like, Free Voluntary Reading makes it more pleasant for me to read more. Even studying Chinese language—or low and behold—Vietnamese language, becomes thinkable again; Now that I’ve completely abandoned vocabulary learning and burned (deleted that is) all traditional language learning text books from my iPad. It was about time that “they” burned, instead of us. I don’t need no pesky grammar-drill books and graded readers when I’ve got J. R. R. Tolkien and Stephen Krashen on my shelves.

Also, as an afterthought, I guess I’ll hold off buying a Playstation 5 as long as there’s no diversity Zombie survival games where I can play the Zombie. Hear Me Roar.