To quantify the claim that school teachers have been making for centuries, a group of Stanford neurobiologists, led by literary scholar Natalie Phillips, examined blood flow in the brains of subjects who were instructed to read passages from Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park" while inside MRI machines.
The findings were unexpected: Subjects were asked to read leisurely at first, and then to make a shift towards more critical reading. In both instances, Philips noticed an increase in blood flow that exceeded "just work and play." In the case of more critical reading--the type you'd engage in while writing an essay or preparing for a test--blood flow increased beyond executive function regions, or those areas responsible for problem-solving.
In other words, both leisurely reading and close-reading could benefit us neurologically in pretty significant ways. In case broadening our cultural horizons wasn't enough!
In spite of these findings, Philips warned against "historical nostalgia, or assuming those of the 18th century were less distracted than we are today." She asserts that Enlightenment-era writers (her area of expertise) were just as concerned about withering attention spans as we are today.
Also, before you get your hopes up too much, don't forget that video games have been proven to be good for your brain, too!
Publisher: Grove Press, $27.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: The famous chronicler of Native American life, best known for his placement among banned books lists, publishes new and old stories.
Publisher: Riverhead, $26.95 Date: September 4, 2012 Fiction Summary: Straub's second book focuses on an old Hollywood's star's attempt to balance family and her successful career.
Publisher: Penguin, $26.95 Date: September 4, 2012 Fiction Summary: Four Londoners struggle to thrive in the world outside of their childhood town.
Publisher: MIT Press, $19.95 Date: September 2012 Memoir Summary: An Iranian Western-trained psychoanalyst returns to her home country in an attempt to employ her practices on Iranian people, whose lives, she says, revolve around stories.
Publisher: McSweeney's, $30.00 Date: September 12, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Talking Heads' frontman delves into the philosophies behind his life's work.
Publisher: Kaya Press, $16.95 Date: October 31, 2012 Fiction Summary: These two early noir novellas about Japanese culture in the underbelly of Los Angeles in the 1920s were recently found, have been translated into English for the first time, and are a gripping read.
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover, $26.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Johnson applies the success of the hyper-connected Internet to organizational structures such as classrooms and systems of government.
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, $17.99 Date: November 27, 2012 YA Fiction Summary: A young girl, Harper, attempts to rescue her sister Gemma from a dangerous clique of girls in this second book of publishing phenomenon Hocking's "Watersong" series.
Publisher: Riverhead, $26.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Fiction Summary: Díaz's iconic Yunior discusses his family history and laments the lovers he has lost due to infidelity.
Publisher: Riverhead, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Rosin reveals the ways in which women have pulled ahead of men, and pays close attention to the "matriarchy" of the professional world.
Publisher: Random House, $30.00 Date: September 18, 2012 Memoir Summary: Rushdie reveals the story of how he was sentenced to death for his anti-Islamic writings, his life of secrecy and the threats placed upon him and his family as he lived under the alias, Joseph Anton.
Publisher: Viking, $27.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Fiction Summary: Boyle chronicles two families' difficult pursuits of freedom on a small Californian island.
Publisher: Little, Brown, $26.99 Date: November 6, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The late writer's humor and ability to deftly examine a broad range of topics comes across in this collection of essays never before published in book form.
Publisher: Ecco, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This scientific and historical examination of female genitalia sheds light on the broader topic of understanding women.
Publisher: Twelve, $22.99 Date: September 4, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: While battling cancer, the great polemicist Hitchens wrote these final observations about life, death, religion and philosophy.
Publisher: Hyperion, $40.00 Date: September 25, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: As the title implies, this book is a survey of the best samplings from 265 hours of Oval Office tapes recorded during Kennedy's presidency. An pre-publication embargo suggests some headline-grabbing content.
Publisher: Blue Rider Press, $26.95 Date: September 18, 2012 Memoir Summary: Charged with the murder of three young boys in Arkansas, Echols and his friends were sentenced to death and life in prison, but were released last year. Echols shares his story of the trial and his tribulations in prison.
Publisher: Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, $23 / $9.99 ebook Date: September 4, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: New mom Jessica Valenti faces up to the reality of parenthood - and it's far from a traditional cloying text about the joys of being a mother. A highly skilled writer, who the<em> New York Times</em> described as a 'third-wave feminist', Valenti says it's time to rethink the American Dream of having a family.
Publisher: Abrams, $35.00 Date: October 1, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This photo book chronicles the objects in Pamuk's Istanbul museum he designed to accompany his last book, "The Museum of Innocence."
Publisher: Little, Brown, $35.00 Date: September 27, 2012 Fiction Summary: Rowling's much-awaited first book for adults is about the death of a small-town city council member and the conflict created by it.
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, $28.99 Date: October 2, 2012 Humor Summary: Colbert's trademark wit and sarcasm offers tongue-in-cheek advice on how to end our economic woes.
Publisher: Henry, Holt and Co., $28.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The follow-up to O'Reilly's bestseller "Killing Lincoln," this book describes the events surrounding JFK's death.
Publisher: Touchstone, $24.99 Date: October 9, 2012 Fiction Summary: 'Mr Goosebumps' Stine's first adult horror book in a while, this tale of a travel writer caring for twins abandoned by a South Carolina hurricane promises to be a haunting read.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, $28.00 Date: October 16, 2012 Fiction Summary: The second installment of Cronin's trilogy about a virus that turns its victims into vampires examines pockets of survivors and their safety tactics.
Publisher: Little, Brown, $30.00 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Wolfe's latest foray explores the ins and outs of Miami's immigrant culture.
Publisher: Harper, $27.99 Date: September 11, 2012 Fiction Summary: Two buddies who are co-owners of a jazzy record shop fight to keep their Oakland store alive. An enhanced ebook with music and extras might also tempt readers.
Publisher: Knopf, $25.95 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: Part of a loosely connected trilogy by the Booker Prize winner, this book examines an aging actor's past relationship with a much older woman.
Publisher: Knopf, $21.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: This story by the author of "The House on Mango Street" chronicles a woman's search for a lost cat just after she has lost her mother.
Publisher: Penguin, $27.95 Date: October 11, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: This memoir by the author of "Things Fall Apart" examines what it is like to grow up in a breakaway country in the middle of a civil war.
Publisher: Delacorte, $35.00 Date: October 20, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: His posthumous correspondence reveals further multitudes of the author, in turns playful and grave, as he shared details of his life with loved ones.
Publisher: Little, Brown, $25.99 Date: October 20, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of the haunting "Room" brings us 14 connected stories of travel from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Publisher: Knopf, $25.95 Date: October 30, 2012 Memoir Summary: Russo's memoir tells of a childhood in the New England mill town that inspired the author's Pulitzer-winning novel, "Empire Falls."
Publisher: Nan A. Talese, $26.95 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of "Atonement" shares a tale of a bookish girl confronted with a choice between romance and her undercover life in England during The Cold War.
Publisher: Picador, $16.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Anthology Summary: This anthology couples classic short stories with nuggets of advice gleaned from them by modern literary stars, such as Lorrie Moore, Dave Eggers and Jeffery Eugenides.
Publisher: Blue Rider Press, $30.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Memoir Summary: Young describes his life from LSD-laced years in 1960s Los Angeles to his more recent musical forays.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00 Date: October 2, 2012 Fiction Summary: Wood's novel examines how a traditional family reacts when the father is assassinated.
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, $24.99 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Attenberg's novel examines the limits of marital love and our cultural fixation with food, as a woman becomes obese.
Publisher: Pantheon, $26.00 Date: October 16, 2012 Fiction Summary: Cult "House of Leaves" author returns with more unique formatting to showcase his eerie tales. This book was originally published as a limited release for $1,000 a pop, but is now being made available for fans willing to pay a more reasonable price.
Publisher: Riverhead, $26.95 Date: October 30, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: The author of the successful pop science book, "The Psychopath Test" and "The Men Who Stare At Goats" explores the strange beliefs that sane individuals are willing to collectively believe in, in this collection of his journalism.
Publisher: Melville House, $16.95 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: The brother of Donald and Frederick, and the coauthor of "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss", shares stories of loss, be it monetary or romantic.
Publisher: Portfolio, $29.95 Date: November 12, 2012 Memoir Summary: The controversial general explains why weapons and funding are less vital than strategy for military success.
Publisher: Other Press, $27.95 Date: October 23, 2012 Fiction Summary: Høeg wrote <em>Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow</em>, but this novel is a very different beast. It examines religious fundamentalism versus religious freedom in this highly enjoyable farce about an unusual Danish family.
Publisher: MIT Press, $24.95 Date: October 2012 Non-fiction Summary: A neuroscientist explains how the findings for his research were discovered while reading a 50-year-old story by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges.
Publisher: Knopf, $26.95 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Munro's latest collection includes her signature deft descriptions of rural Canadian life.
Publisher: Viking, $27.95 Date: November 8, 2012 Fiction Summary: The author of the <em>His Dark Materials</em> trilogy re-imagines fairy tales originally written by The Brothers Grimm.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Bolaño's unfinished novel was worked on until the author died in 2003, and tells the story of a Chilean university professor's life after fleeing to Spain and Mexico.
Publisher: Random House, $35.00 Date: November 13, 2012 Non-fiction Summary: Mecham won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson. Here he takes on another controversial American president.
Publisher: Harper, $28.99 Date: November 6, 2012 Fiction Summary: This is the story of an Appalachian woman who gave up her dreams to remain in her insular town after becoming pregnant at age 17.
Publisher: Scribner, $19.99 Date: November 13, 2012 Fiction Summary: Tóibín's novel imagines the life of a much older Mary as she attempts to look back and comprehend the events that would come to comprise the New Testament.
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