Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Reading as Remedy and Respite

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 07•17

According to The Guardian  sales of George Orwell’s 1984, published 67 years ago are now soaring. The novel warns about government propaganda, an authoritarian culture and historical revisionism, now jarringly resonant.   It’s where the term Orwellian comes from.But you probably already know that.

The New York Times is also weighing in on this phenomena. The Atlantic is reporting that books by Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, and Hannah Arenldt have also had a spike in interest over the past year. Isn’t that heartening? I’ve been predicting that books sales will rise, especially dystopian tales. Dystopian novels are “chiming with people” Jess Harrison a London-based editor at Penguin said. She added that The Man in The High Castle by Philip Dick, an alternative history in which the Nazis defeated America to win World War II, is also selling well, according to the Times. Huxley’s Brave New World is also selling like proverbial hotcakes.

Books are better than hotcakes or any sort of cake. Books offer respite, companionship, and insights into human nature. Reading most anything increases your ability to focus. A research study at the University of Sussex reveals that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress, better than other methods like listening to music or taking a walk. People who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, and lower levels of depression compared to non-readers. Even reading for a short period, such as 6 or 7 minutes lowers your heart rate. Other research shows that reading increases your vocabulary and helps with memory. Reading also develops empathy,and enhances brain connectivity and imagination,

Meanwhile, I’ve finished reading Chuck Wendig’s Invasive. It’s a bio thriller about genetically-modified insects. The book is out in hardcover and the publisher scattered illustrations of ants crawling across the pages.  Every aspect of the story contributes to a hellscape and the protagonist Hannah Stander, a futurist consultant for the FBI,  has a complicated backstory since her parents are wacky survivalists.  Reading it I learned a lot about ant societies and their work ethic for lack of a better term. Reading it I felt my skin crawl at times. Reading it I forgot my worries about our government and this worried world.

I started reading The Best American Mystery Stories of 2016 as I do every January. It’s a delicious compilation of crime fiction, psychological puzzles, and literary fiction. This year  the collection is edited by Elizabeth George. Her Introduction and Otto Penzler’s  Foreword are elucidating and thoughtful. Another aspect of this anthology that I really appreciate is the  Contributors’ Notes section where the authors explain their inspirations and writing process.

Reading takes us blissfully far away from a world that sometimes seems too scary and maddening or burdensome to cope with.

Reading is good for our brains and makes us better writers. Novels show us how it’s done by teaching structure and plotting. Reading enhances our vocabularies. Savor and take notes as you turn the pages. What are you reading these days?

Keep writing, keep reading, have heart

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