Why We Read and How Reading Transforms Us

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This book examines the reading experience from an interdisciplinary perspective, incorporating concepts and research from psychology, education, and literary theory. Readers’ narrative accounts of their experiences complement the presentation of theory and review of research. Chapters in the first part of the book examine how evolutionary forces shaped predispositions that promote reading engagement and how reading helps fulfil basic needs such as the desire to learn, achieving an optimum level of excitement, feeling connected to others, and meeting challenges. The second part of the book examines how personality and cultural background influence reading. Chapters in the third part of the book explore the transforming effects of reading, such as changed consciousness and emotions and improved cognitive and emotional abilities. One of the chapters focusing on transforming effects of reading explains how reading can bring about negative changes as well as positive ones. The last part of the book examines research on maximising the benefits of reading and suggests strategies for optimising the reading experience.


“Why is pleasure reading such a deeply treasured experience, verging on the magical? A torrent of books and learned papers has addressed this question. Two tributaries feed into this stream. The broader of the two examines reading material, categorizing the genres of popular fiction, distinguishing between the allure of the formulaic as against the mimetic, or how the age-old conventions of myth and folktale are replicated in love stories and detective novels. The smaller tributary, to which this readable and always engaging book contributes, focuses on the reader’s inner experience: how does the printed narrative work its magic? The book’s title neatly defines the psychological agenda, and responds to it in the most direct way possible – by asking readers why they read and how the reading experience transforms them, pre-eminently in Chapter 14 on altered consciousness and the reader’s emotional involvement. The authors have done reading scholarship a valuable service by illumining new aspects of the inner experience of a wide and diverse sample of readers, and their book deserves to be widely read.” – (from the Preface) Victor Nell, Professor Emeritus, University of South Africa

“What a refreshing perspective on the reading process and the motivations of readers! All too often, modern examination of the reading act focuses on the mechanics of the process. This book, perhaps because the authors’ expertise lies in the field of psychology, offers a valuable discussion of why readers read and what changes occur as a result of that act of reading. This unique and perceptive analysis of the ‘why’ of reading offers many ideas of value to both educators and parents. Educators need this reminder that all reading is for a purpose – and if we want motivated readers, the purposes for reading must ultimately be internalized by the students ... I strongly suggest this book as recommended reading for all educators and future educators interested in helping students become better readers ...” Professor James L. McCan, Nova Southeastern University, Florida

“Drs. Schutte and Malouff have undertaken an ambitious project – to describe humans’ motivations for engaging in reading activities and the ways in which this highly valued intellectual activity affects the intellectual and interior emotional lives of literate individuals. In doing so, they draw upon work from several disciplinary fields, including social, cognitive and educational psychology, reading pedagogy and critical literacy theory, history, and media studies and communications ... The book is, however, a survey rather than a comprehensive accounting of the psychology of reading motivation. This approach serves to whet the reader’s appetite for additional knowledge regarding some of the factors that contribute to reading development, as well as the individual and social consequences of reading practice ...” Professor M. Cecil Smith, Northern Illinois University

Table of Contents

Part I: Why We Like to Read
1. Readers’ Narratives and the Importance of Reading
2. The Evolution of Reading
3. Learning through Reading
4. Excitement and Satisfaction of Curiosity
5. Choices
6. Feeling Good about One’s Own Life
7. Feeling Connected to Others
8. Vicariously Fulfilling Needs
9. Challenge, Importance, Self-efficacy, and Acting in Accordance with One’s Self-Concept
Part II: Why We Read Specific Genres
10. What Favourite and Popular Texts Tell Us About Why People Read
11. Knowledge, Needs, and Genres
12. Personality and Genres
13. Culture and Genres
Part III: How Reading Transforms Us
14. Altered Consciousness and Emotional Involvement
15. Understanding the Inner Life and Circumstances of Others and the Self
16. Seeing the World Differently
17. Increased Cognitive and Emotional Ability
18. Setting and Reaching Goals
19. Can Reading Transform us in Negative Ways?
20. Changes in the Self
Part IV: How to Increase the Benefits of Reading
21. Theory and Research on Maximising the Benefits of Reading
22. Strategies for Maximising the Benefits of Reading
Subject Index

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