Opinion: Keep calm and read on this summer

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Commentary by Amy Sorrells

Psychologists are prescribing it.

College students are fighting for spots in a class that centers on it.

Recent studies indicate it may make people kinder and more empathetic.

The mystery concoction?

A good book.

Professor Justin McDaniel is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Prompted by the realization that an overwhelming majority of his students had never read most of the best 20th century literature, he requires students of his class, RELS256, to spend one seven-hour evening a week doing nothing but reading. No prerequisites. No cellphones. No interruptions. Just plain reading of high-quality books.

In New York City, bibliotherapist Noreen Tomassi is the executive director of the Center for Fiction. Although careful not to discount the importance and necessity of psychiatry, she says her book-a-month prescription for clients helps decrease stress in our rushed and bellicose world.

“There are several studies that go so far as to suggest that when we read, our breathing patterns change. Our bodies begin to slow themselves, to relax,” she told Thrillist.

This isn’t new news. In a 2013 Cambridge University study, Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, wrote that she, “used Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel ‘The Secret Garden’ to demonstrate … emotional literacy can be enhanced through the reading of fiction.”

And in 2013 at Emory University in Atlanta, neuroscientist Gregory Berns and his team of researchers discovered both immediate and lasting changes in the brains of readers which “suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist … that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense.”

A lot of folks are planning summer vacations and stay-cations and ways to stay cool this summer.

I wonder what might happen if we choose to include space in our suitcases or in our backyard hammocks for a couple of good books?

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