Bookish Thought: Why Deep Reading Is So Important

Bookish Thought is a type of discussion post where I talk about anything book related and of course leave it open for you all to respond :)

Okay, if you read last week’s Bookish Thought on reading more than one book at a time, then you might remember that I mentioned doing a tangent Bookish Thought post related to that. So this week’s Bookish Thought is all about deep reading!

Before we can dive in, it might be good to know what deep reading actually is. I like this explanation from the Grammar site

Deep reading is the active process of thoughtful and deliberate reading carried out to enhance one’s comprehension and enjoyment of a text. Contrast with skimming or superficial reading. Also called slow reading.

The term deep reading was coined by Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies (1994): “Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms. We are free to indulge our subjective associative impulse; the term I coin for this is deep reading: the slow and meditative possession of a book. We don’t just read the words, we dream our lives in their vicinity.”

I really like the ‘possession’ part. I think all readers tend to end up living and breathing not only books in general, but books that they absolutely love. But I think this definition might also imply that while many readers do possess a book, sometimes it’s not quite the level of deep reading. However, with some more research, I found that superficial reading tends to be whatever reading we do on the internet or if we skim something.

Most of my fellow bibliophiles will agree with this introduction from an OEDb article called Your Brain on Books: 10 Things That Happen to Our Minds When We Read:

Any book lover can tell you: diving into a great novel is an immersive experience that can make your brain come alive with imagery and emotions and even turn on your senses. It sounds romantic, but there’s real, hard evidence that supports these things happening to your brain when you read books. In reading, we can actually physically change our brain structure, become more empathetic, and even trick our brains into thinking we’ve experienced what we’ve only read in novels.

Isn’t that crazy and amazing? I knew that our brains were amazing and powerful, but it sounds even better in that intro. I won’t list all ten, but here are some of the ones that I found really interesting:

  1. We make photos in our minds, even without being prompted
  2. Reading about experiences is almost the same as living it
  3. Different styles of reading create different patterns in the brain
  4. E-books lack in spatial navigability
  5. Story structure encourages our brains to think in sequence, expanding our attention spans

Be sure to check out the article for the other five benefits including more info and other links. But these aren’t the only benefits! Reading doesn’t just improve us cognitively, it also makes us more empathic and improves our social skills.

This 2013 TIME article talks about how why we should read literature because reading, particularly deep reading, makes us smarter and kinder. While reading the article, I came across this lovely quote:

The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love.

Isn’t that just a beautiful description? I certainly feel that way about a lot of the books I read. Though the content sometimes finds its way over my head. The TIME article also mentions how the experience of deep reading is unique in of itself – “different from the mere decoding of words.”

So while I believe that doing any kind of reading is beneficial and reading any kind of genre is just as beneficial, reading literary fiction is even better compared to, say, popular fiction, at least according to the New York Times article For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov. The study found:

… that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

Although the article does point out that there are some questions that the study did not find answers for, I believe with the overall conclusion of the study. Either way, reading seems to benefit us in a myriad of ways. (Although there is the time issue, but ssh, we’ll keep it a secret).

I did find this other blog post from Refined Mind titled Three Cognitive Benefits of Reading Fiction that I think does a good job of summarizing a lot of what these various articles and studies found about reading.

Like many of my other Bookish Thought posts, I now have a new set of questions and thoughts surrounding other genres than literary fiction and their benefits (or not) that I hope to be able to bring to you next week!

So, what do you think of the studies’ findings? What do you think of deep reading and its affects? Do you superficial reading has any possible benefits for us?

P.S. I believe many of these articles and/or studies are from the year 2013

Happy Hump day and reading!




8 thoughts on “Bookish Thought: Why Deep Reading Is So Important

  1. I think superficial reading also has its benefits though they might not be as many or as fulfilling as reading deeply. Superficial reading helps when you have to get through material quickly and you just need to know the gist of whatever is said.
    I like that “possession” part because when I really get into a book, it’s as if the story possesses me or hypnotizes me or something. I agree that the brain is pretty amazing and I like how I can use the few descriptions an author gives to create a character or a whole world in my mind. I’m often amazed when I daydream too because I have pretty detailed daydreams. They amaze me because I’ll just be in a train staring out a window and creating a story in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely see your point about superficial reading; it can have its benefits, depending on the person and situation for sure.
      Yes, is’t that ‘possession’ part so true?
      Thanks for sharing! :)


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post! One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that I simply Cannot “deep read” ebooks… there’s something about the ease of flipping through quickly and about the digital screen that diminishes my attention significantly. It’s why I usually read physical books. I wonder how our digital rapid-click mentality is affecting how deeply we read, and I’d love to see someone do a study on this correlation..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by! :)
      One of the links, I think it’s the “10 ways …” has a point where our mind is able to adapt to new technology, like e-readers really quickly. But they also showed that there is something about physically holding the book and reading that makes a bigger and better difference for our minds.
      I’m thinking in our current technological world and our growing short attention spans, deep reading with physical books is probably even more important

      Liked by 1 person

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