For those of us from literate societies, reading is a given. It’s easy. It even seems effortless. But the processes going on in our brain while we read are actually quite complex. We never even imagine what has to happen to turn the visual input of letters on a page or screen into a narrative which entertains, excites, frightens or pleases us while reinforcing (or challenging) moral values.
But it happens. In fact, we cannot look at words without reading them any more than we can hear a spoken sentence (of a language we speak) without automatically getting the meaning. Don’t believe me? I dare you to read the next sentence and not understand it…
Author Livia describes herself as a “brain scientist and writer.” She is a grad student in neuroscience at MIT, so she studies the complexities of how the brain works. But she also writes YA fantasy. Now that’s a combination you don’t encounter every day. Well, I never have, at least. And she skillfully brings both interests to bear in this short, but informative book.
From Words to Brain packs a lot of information into a concise package, easily read in one sitting. She provides tons of interesting science, without being over-technical for the reader (like me) who is, in fact, not a neuroscientist.
I’ll tell you a couple of reasons you will enjoy this book. First, you should be fascinated by the brain, the body–all the amazing aspects of being human. I appreciated learning more of how my brain processes the written word. I won’t spill the beans here. Buy the book!
I also found myself seeing parallels to how the brain works in two of my own fields of interest: music and language learning.
When we read, our brain activates its various regions just as if we were experiencing the action and emotions of the story personally. Does a character kick a ball? The part of the reader’s brain which controls the action of kicking gets all excited. Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music tells us that in the same way, when we simply remember a song, the same part of the brain which is stimulated by actually hearing the song is activated in exactly the same way.
As a language learning coach I know that involving the body in an action while speaking about the action is a better way to really learn the vocabulary. Kick while saying “kick,” for example. And setting up situations where the learner must think ahead and make the right choices reinforces learning.
And that brings me to the second reason. If you’re a writer like me, this book is a good starting point to consider about how to take advantage of the brain’s under-the-surface activity in your readers. It got me to thinking about how to set my readers up for better anticipation, the satisfying feeling they get when they correctly predict “what’s next.” And I want to scheme better ways to lead them on, only prove their prediction wrong, although it was valid, based on what I wrote. You can’t lie to your reader, but it’s okay to trick them—skillfully. That’s what mysteries are all about. I want to engage them with action, emotion, empathy, spacial experience… the works. The richer the experience I can create in their brain, the more they will like my book (and buy the next one. There, I said it.)
Stop wavering and buy the ebook. And subscribe to her blog while you’re waiting for it to download. You’ll learn some things, and I know you’ll have some fun. And if you’re a writer, I wager you’ll become a better one.