Reading your way to a Bill Gates brain

Reading is often associated with all things “boring” when, in fact, it’s not only the key to worlds beyond our reach, but to our interior world and a knowledge of who we are.

From the cradle to the grave, books have the power to change us and, if we’re going through adolescence and desperately seeking an identity, our favourite books, along with our favourite music, can provide us with a solid base to build on.

In recent years, of course, online activity has nudged literature to one side, but as the celebration of International Children’s Book Day on April 2 suggests, reading is no less relevant today than it was 20 years ago.

On a purely cerebral level, scientists point out that following the plot of a novel stimulates connections within the brain. A 2013 study, published in the PubMed Central, notes that throughout the reading period and for several days afterwards, brain scans of the participants showed increased brain connectivity.

Ironically, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the man who ushered technology into our lives, is one of the book’s biggest champions.

An avid reader, he gets through up to 50 books a year and credits reading for the agility of his mind.

As he told Time magazine, “You don’t really start getting old until you stop learning; every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently.”

A firm believer that books can drive personal growth and reflection, Bill Gates was devouring books by the age of 10 and had to be stopped by his parents – at least at dinner time!

His all-time favourite novel is J. D. Salinger’s novel, Catcher in the Rye, which he read aged 13. He now gets through a combination of fiction and non-fiction, often summarising content and looking up anything he doesn’t understand.

Gates stresses that, to be effective, reading should be done in one hour-blocks with optimum concentration, rather than 10 minutes here and there. And in a bid to encourage others to follow his example, he has set up a book blog, where he writes reviews and recommends different authors.

But of course, reading is not just about stimulating the intellect, it is also about expanding our powers of observation and empathy.

Research published in Science magazine shows that readers of novels that explore the characters’ inner lives are more likely to grasp that others have desires and beliefs different from our own, enabling them to better participate in complex social relationships.

Clearly reading, then, is not a pastime we can afford to relegate to the past. In fact, despite the current focus on digital transformation, it is more urgent than ever that we take the time to read to our children from early on in a way that triggers a passion for books that will sustain them for life.

Building a love of books

  • Adopt different voices for the books’ characters when reading to your children.
  • Carry on reading to your children even when they can read themselves as they will find listening to more complex storylines easier than reading them – at least at first.
  • Ask children questions while reading to them to make sure they are engaged and not just being lulled to sleep. For example, what do you think this character will do next?; or why do you think that character say or do what they did?
  • Try reading the same books as your teenagers every once in a while so you can discuss the content.
  • Choose books that will make your children laugh. Books are a great source of humour.
  • Make sure your children can see you reading too and that you have books around the house.
  • Covid-permitting, take children to bookshops and let them pick – they will feel as if they have the world in their hands.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, get hold of A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature.