Last week, on Sunday 23rd April, we celebrated World Book Night. At Warwickshire Libraries we held a virtual book quiz where teams of book lovers got together to test their bookish knowledge and compete for a prize! The evening was full of joy and laughter, bringing together like-minded souls, all with a shared passion for books and reading. This is one of the wonderful things about reading – it’s a great opportunity to share an experience and interest with others. As well as this social side to reading, which can traditionally be seen in reading groups and reading-related events, reading alone has also proven to have benefits. We decided to take this opportunity to explore this idea to help encourage those who maybe don’t prioritise reading for pleasure to see just how good it can be for you…

Reading Helps To Reduce Stress

Stress can have a very negative impact upon your health – not just mentally, but physically, causing problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes – so it’s really important that we try to reduce and escape it from time to time. Reading a good book that you enjoy can take you away to another world – whether that’s to another country, planet or time period – and can help you to forget about the things that are causing you stress. The main point to remember is that it has to be a book that YOU enjoy, and our tastes differ greatly from person to person. If you would prefer to read a romantic comedy, a blood-curdling thriller or the latest academic text on George Eliot, it does not matter as long as you enjoy the experience and get ‘lost’ in the book.

But don’t just take our word for it: the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy carried out a survey in 2021 which found that 43% of people used reading to ease stress levels during the third national lockdown in 2020. In addition, a report by Dr Billington from the University of Liverpool reported that “an online poll of over four thousand people from a representative sample in the UK revealed that regular readers for pleasure reported fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers, and stronger feelings of relaxation from reading than from watching television or engaging with technology intensive activities”.

Reading Can Alleviate Loneliness

As we mentioned before, reading can provide opportunities to socialise with other people. Whether that be in the form of a reading group (in person or virtual) or through reading related activities or events, such as author talks or literary festivals, getting together with like-minded individuals can help to alleviate loneliness. However, there is also evidence that reading as a solitary activity can help to reduce those crippling feelings of loneliness. A report from think tank Demos and The Reading Agency charity has found that reading or listening to an audio book can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness and help to alleviate social isolation. This may be because lonely people often feel that they are just that – alone – that no one understands them or their feelings. Reading, however, can show people that they are not alone, that there are a wide variety of people in the world who may be experiencing and feeling the same things.

Reading Improves Empathy

The last point leads nicely onto the next benefit of reading for pleasure: improving empathy. Reading, whether that be fiction or non-fiction, can help you to explore the thoughts and circumstances of another person, even if they are a fictional character. This allows us to discover life experiences that may contradict our own and empathise with the emotions that come with it. Experiencing empathy for others can help to create a more supported and cooperative society by allowing us to understand how others might be feeling and so react in a helpful manner.

Reading Increases Knowledge

You don’t have to read academic textbooks to increase your knowledge through reading and it doesn’t have to be dull as dishwater, either. Learning comes in all different shapes and sizes when it comes to reading. The most obvious form of gaining knowledge is through reading non-fiction, and there are books on almost any topic imaginable. For example, you may use a cook book to improve your knowledge of recipes and cooking techniques, or you might pick up a guide to learning a language. But equally, you might choose to read a book by that hilarious comedian off the telly who explores their childhood in a culture you had no previous knowledge of. Similarly, you can pick up knowledge from reading fiction. For example, our Virtual Reading Group read A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett in March and we all agreed that we learnt a lot about how the Royal family live and what they get up to on a day-to-day business. Not only all of that, but reading in general can increase your vocabulary and help you learn the skills to detect and solve problems. There are some interesting articles around that explore how reading can increase your IQ. And who doesn’t want to feel a little smarter?

Reading Improves Memory and Focus

Librarians are not scientists, so we won’t go into too much detail, but there are studies (for example, one by Robert S. Wilson, at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago) that show that activities that exercise your brain, such as reading, help maintain brain health. There are even studies that show that activities like reading can lower the risk of dementia. By stimulating the brain during reading, it allows the brain to produce new neurons as well as promoting improvements in the bilateral somatosensory cortex. Therefore, the more we read, the easier it can be to recall information and process new information.

Reading Can Improve Sleep

Anyone else read a book in bed and find in the morning that they’ve lost their page because they dropped the book when they fell asleep?! Even if this doesn’t happen to you, there are studies that show reading before you go to bed can help improve your sleep quality. One psychologist, Dr. David Lewis, argued that reading a book is “more than merely a distraction, but an active engaging of the imagination,” one that “causes you to enter an altered state of consciousness.” This might be because reading helps you to relax and destress, which promotes sleep. It’s a much better option for encouraging sleep than looking at electronic screens in any case, which is proven to hamper the production of hormones that control sleep patterns. So next time you’re in bed, make sure you pick up a book instead of scrolling through social media and see if it can help you fall asleep!

How Libraries Can Help

So now you know why reading is good for you, let us explain why libraries are so fantastic at helping you along with your reading journey:

  • You can borrow books for FREE! Your membership with Warwickshire Libraries will not cost you a penny and once you are a member, you can borrow up to 10 books at a time for FREE! You can visit any of our Warwickshire Libraries to borrow and return your books. And if there isn’t the book you specifically want in your local library, you can have it delivered from one of our other libraries to your library for a small fee.
  • You can borrow ebooks and eaudiobooks for FREE! You can sign up to BorrowBox with your library card to borrow up to 10 ebooks or eaudiobooks at a time. There are thousands to choose from!
  • You can read magazines and newspapers online for FREE! Sign up with your library card to Libby and PressReader to access these services without spending a penny!
  • We host reading groups! Many of our libraries host reading groups (find out where here) and we also host a monthly virtual reading group so you can get together with like-minded individuals. Or if you want to start up your own reading group, we have a special Reading Group Collection where groups can borrow multiple copies of the same book for their group. We have over 300 titles for you to choose from! (Find out how to join here)
  • We hold author events! Many of our libraries host coffee mornings where authors are sometimes invited to speak. We also try to host interesting author and poetry events at our libraries, so keep an eye on our events programme!
  • We offer reading recommendations! Our physical libraries are always changing up their displays to reflect what’s topical and what might be of interest to their customers. Our staff are always happy to offer a recommendation or help you to find your next read – just ask! In addition, we often share reading ideas on our dedicated web page as well as on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.
  • We have special library collections. Have a browse through our reading collections, curated to help you find books that you are interested in. Our main collections include: the Foreign Language CollectionHealth and Wellbeing CollectionsInclusive Reads Collections, the Large Print, Spoken World and Braille Collection, the Local Studies and Family History Collection and the Music and Drama Collection.

So what are you waiting for?! Go and read a book now – it’s good for your health!