I love to read. I always have. I was the kid who hid a book on my lap under my desk during class, so I could sneak in extra reading. When I was in the midst of a good story I was transported into the world of the author. The other kids would tease me, because I found it hard to pay attention to what was happening around me. All I wanted to do was go back to my book.
Then, of course, as an adult I got a job in a library, which led to me going back to school to get a library degree. Contrary to popular opinion, librarians don’t have time to read books. They choose and order books, index them and enter them into computer systems, help people find information and good novels, and teach students how to find information. But still, I was always surrounded by books, and surrounded by people who loved to read. I worked in libraries from 1985 until 2018 (minus an 8 year child-raising break), when I found it necessary to retire with a partial pension.
I haven’t lost my love of reading, but it’s changed in recent years. I found myself reading more books with formula type plots, comfort reads. I remember my collection development professor in library school telling us that the books we read for relaxation are books that do not challenge us on a moral level. The characters react the way we’d react. They make the kinds of decisions we’d make. I like to read books with strong female characters who never give up– tough as nails private investigators, police officers, guardians, sword masters, that kind of thing. A bit weird for someone who is as introverted and pacifistic as me, but I need protagonists to relate to that always get back up after they are knocked down. I have found that reading stories with strong women is therapeutic for me. I have so many difficult days. It would be easy to give up the fight.
As my memory has gotten worse I found that I often have deja vu about books. I’ll be convinced that I know how a story ends. Sometimes I’m right; sometimes I’m not. During this last year, coincidentally the year I was diagnosed with Mild Neurocognitive Disorder (mNCD), the plots of the stories I was reading started to merge. My comfort reads were no longer comfortable. The last straw for me was reading the latest book in a favorite series, and being convinced, yet again, that I knew the plot. When I checked the publication date I found that there was no way that I had read that book before. And, it happened twice. Two favorite series with new books that I “recognized.”
Well, I’m not giving up reading. It’s my main leisure activity. There are a couple things I’ve done to help myself out. One is on January 1st I started keeping a list of the books I’ve read, so I can go back and check to see if I’ve already read this book. Another thing that I’ve started to do is listen to books. I download eAudio books from my public library, plus I splurged on a subscription to Audible. I’m enjoying my reading quite a lot more now that I’m listening to someone else read it. I’m listening to books that are more challenging than I’ve read in quite a while, thought provoking books. And, surprisingly it’s easier for me to remember what’s happening in these more challenging books. The plots aren’t similar. I don’t have deja vu. The narrator keeps reading even when I get confused, and eventually I pick up the thread of the story. There’s a 15 second rewind that helps with little details I miss, like what city the character is in. I don’t have time to wonder what happened to Charlie and feel stupid because I can’t keep things straight, because the narrator keeps moving on, and so does my attention.
I use Bluetooth to listen wirelessly with my hearing aid. I started having tinnitus in one ear this year, and I got a hearing aid that I can connect to my phone or computer. Before I got the hearing aid I listened with one wireless ear bud. I prefer to use one, because I can still hear what’s going on around me. I listen to stories while I clean the house, and walk the dog. I’m getting more exercise, because I walk longer while I’m listening to a story. I’m also doing my physical therapy exercises more often. I’m sitting outside on my deck, and I’m working in my garden more often.
Listening to books has brought back my joy of reading. I’ve started listening to difficult non-fiction titles. Currently I’m listening to “Remember” by Lisa Genova. She’s the neuroscientist who wrote “Still Alice,” which is a novel about a neuroscientist who gets Alzheimer’s Disease. In “Remember” Lisa is talking to people without cognitive decline, and she’s explaining how memory normally works. It’s not something I could sit down and read to myself now, but I’m happy listening to someone else read it. So far I’ve learned that in order to remember something we need to pay attention to it. Our brain can’t remember everything, so if we want to remember something we need to repeat it, or associate it with something. Also, our working memory is 10-30 seconds, and it can hold up to 7 things at a time. We can remember more if we group things, like we do with phone numbers, 9067822085 or (906) 782-2085. It’s interesting information, but frankly if I were to read that on paper or an eReader I wouldn’t retain as much as I have learned from listening. Lisa also mentions that the more senses that are involved in remembering something, the more likely we are to remember, which I think is part of what I’m doing when I listen to a book. Also, the act of writing this down to share it makes it more likely that I will remember. “Remember” isn’t written for people with cognitive problems, but this week I needed a break from reading about cognitive decline.
Below is some information I’ve found about how reading may improve cognitive abilities for people at risk for dementia. And, on the bottom are links to connecting to public library eAudio books, and a link to Audible.
“Remember” by Lisa Genova: https://g.co/kgs/VRBmuY
Research study that concludes reading helps prevent cognitive decline: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32498728/
Research article that says reading can improve cognitive ability, but not necessarily prevent cognitive decline: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6171467/
Link to Audible: https://www.audible.com/ep/memberbenefits
Link to a U.S. public library eBook app that will lead you to books from your local public library: https://www.overdrive.com/account/sign-in
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