Monday, January 09, 2017

Tell Me a Story

I've just dismantled Christmas. The tree is in the garden awaiting disposal (why is there always one bauble left on the branches, however carefully you check beforehand?), the crib is packed away, the cards have gone and all the little sentimental ornaments are in the box waiting for another year.

This has been one of the special Christmases – the ones when you have small children in the house and the 'Santa stop here' sign has to be put out in the garden, the mince pie and carrot have to be left on the hearth and the ritual reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” performed. There aren't every many of these; children grow so fast and Christmas is never the same afterwards.

And the 'Read me a story' days pass quickly as well. My five-year-old grandson can read for himself but he still likes having a cuddle and being read to. His older sisters, bookworms both, now lose themselves entirely in what they're reading and have no need for a narrator.

I shall be completely redundant soon, sadly. It always went to my heart: the desperation in the voice of a non-reading child when everyone was busy – 'Please will you read me a story? Please!'

Humankind has always wanted stories, probably since the beginning of time and certainly before any sort of record began, with an oral tradition going back to long before writing was invented. And now neuroscience is coming up with a suggestion as to why they are so important to us.

When we see someone performing an action or feeling an emotion, the mirror neurone cells in our brain fire up so we experience something similar. If you look at the faces of people in a cinema, say, or watching TV, they are reacting as if something was happening in real life and they were experiencing it too. We empathise, thanks to our mirror neurones.

Empathy is a rewarding emotion, releasing the feel-good chemical oxytocin. So when we are drawn into a book with sympathetic characters, this may be what makes it hard to put down – we're addicts.

So no wonder the poor little mites, newly hooked on the stuff, get desperate. I can remember it vividly myself – the sheer frustration of holding a book with the story inside and not being able to pull it out for myself. I taught myself to read at four and to this day I feel a sort of panic if I'm going to be stuck somewhere with nothing to read. Until I read about the research, I hadn't realised that what I feared was withdrawal symptoms.

May all your books in 2017 be addictive and may there be many good times for you, even in this troubled world.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

I loved your post.