Dr. L.J.M. Owen is a trained archaeologist and qualified librarian with a PhD in palaeogenetics. She is also the author of the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth Series which includes Olmec Obituary (Book 1) and Mayan Mendacity (Book 2). She now explains why we love to read.
It’s been a long hard day. You finally have an hour to yourself. What do you feel like doing?
If all you want to do is dive into the latest release from your favourite author, you’re not alone.
The question is why? Why – like you – do bookworms across the globe yearn for nothing more than curling up with a good book and escaping into its pages?
The answer is in your genes and it relates to the power of the story.
Humans aren’t the only beings who tell stories, of course. Bees dance to tell the hive a tale of abundant pollen. Elephants mourn over the bones of lost family members, revisiting the history of their heartbreak. But it seems that narratives are an especially important part of being human. From sitting around an open fire thousands of years ago listening to myths about Gods, to couch-potatoing in front of your favourite TV series, people love immersing themselves in a saga. For good reason.
Stories, including the stories in your books, are the lifeblood of humanity.
Human children are born almost completely helpless. Unlike puppies and kittens who learn to walk, communicate and find shelter relatively quickly, human babies take years to learn these basic survival skills. In addition, human cultures are complex, filled with diverse sets of morals, ethics, rituals, expectations and mythologies. This requires a lot of extra learning. And what’s one of the easiest ways to engage a child in learning? Tell them a story.
It seems that humans are genetically programmed to code information into a story format as an efficient means of storing, transmitting and receiving knowledge for the very purpose of overcoming our helpless infancy. Stories also tap into emotions, which can help you remember your lessons. For example, if you warn a child once not to go into the forest they may forget your caution quickly. But scare them silly with tales of terrifying wolves or woodcutters and chances are they’ll be on high alert.
From early childhood onwards, stories shape your perceptions of the world. They can give you hope, make you laugh out loud or leave you feeling troubled. Stories can make you think, question and discover new passions. On the days that you read about characters who are strong and capable, you are more likely to face your own difficulties head on. If you read widely, try books in many genres by many different authors, stories can also open your eyes to both the possibilities in your life and the minds and souls of other people.
That is the power of stories, and the power of reading.
As an emerging author, I’ve been asked by a few readers why I write, and why historical crime in particular. The short answer is that writing gives my life meaning. I write about archaeology, forensic science and libraries because they’re my passions – I have degrees in all three. I write about food, cats and cosy mysteries because that’s what brings me comfort on darker days, a warmth I’d like to share with others. I write about forgotten women’s history for the simple reason that it should be obscured no longer. Ultimately, I write because there must be story creators if we are to be a species of story consumers.
So the next time you settle down with a good book, you can smile to yourself knowing that reading is part of a winning evolutionary strategy. Stories, including stories in book form, are as much a part of being human as spending time with family and friends.
Why do you read? It’s in your genes.
Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth Series: Book 1
Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.
But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her. Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman. She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust...