Several days a week, I read to someone who can no longer read for herself. Like most tasks that serve others, my reading to her serves me as much as it helps her. It's not just the good feeling I get from helping to brighten her day. I'm getting smarter.
As readers, we sometimes get stuck in a rut. I used to read everything, from biography to philosophy to classics to P.I. novels. In the last few years, I had pretty much dropped everything but mystery, the type of books I most enjoy. I'm not sure why, but I think it had to do with ease: I knew what I was getting (vicarious excitement), I knew I would like where it ended up (some sort of justice) and I knew my part in things (add up the clues and make a guess at the ending).
Now, my read-aloud books are chosen to suit my listener's taste, and she is interested in quantum physics, brain research, and various branches of philosophy. And do you know what? It's fascinating stuff!
We finished THE WATCHMAN'S RATTLE last week, which we both enjoyed. In fact, I found I could hardly wait to get back to reading it. The book we're reading now on brain research and OCD (the title escapes me), has interesting implications for so-called "normal" people, and explains a lot about everyday human to human encounters.
It's an unexpected benefit: a project I took up to allevitate someone else's boredom has banished mine. I realize that by reading only one type of book, I had almost stopped challenging my intellect. (And brain research tells us THAT is the way to early dementia.)
Not that mysteries aren't fun, and even challenging in many ways. Not that I will EVER stop reading them. (I will certainly continue writing them, since there's no way I could ever write on string theory or the function of the cerebral frontal cortex.) But I have been reminded, by reading what someone else likes, that variety of reading experience is a great way to think about a larger world, to challenge my mind, and to perhaps spur my own writing into new, more exciting areas.