07:09:37 am on
Saturday 13 Jul 2024

Roll Over Gutenberg
David Simmonds

Reading books helps keep you smart, right. Well, not according to a new study. In fact, you may be better off surfing the net.

A four-year study of 2000 women and men 70+ years of age.

The Associated Press (AP) reported recently on a four-year study conducted by the Mayo Clinic on some 2,000 adults, seventy years of age or older. The researchers were trying to determine whether some common mental and social activities, such as web surfing, making crafts, playing cards, going to movies with others and reading books, had any role to play in staving off cognitive impairment.

The findings indicated those who engaged in one of those mind-stimulating activities at least once a week experienced cognitive decline at a rate that was 20 per cent lower than those who did not. The general lesson is that being engaged in some form or other is good for brain health. Indeed, benefits can derive from sources of stimulation that are nearby and cheap: a simple deck of cards can be neuroprotective, with no fancy brain training games required.

The study also found that the existence of a genetic trait linked with Alzheimer’s was a likely factor in cognitive decline, but that even among those who had the trait, stimulating activities were associated with lower rates of impairment.

An active mind was more likely if one used a computer than read a book.

The shocker for me was that not all of the activities studied had the same positive effect. The mind stimulator that had the greatest positive effect was using a computer. Three others, crafts, cards and movie going, were in positive territory. The stimulator that had little or no positive effect was reading books. That’s right: reading books! It’s all enough to make Johannes Gutenberg roll over in his grave.

This observation makes very little sense to me. What do the results, of this study, suggest? My Uncle Fred has a weekly cribbage game with his pals. The study seems to suggest this does more for him than does struggling through the latest Margaret Atwood novel. Can this be?

I would have better employed my time making macramé projects than in consulting the Oxford English Dictionary. What is a ‘computer’ anyway? Does it include an e-reader? Would I preserve my brain better if I read “War and Peace,” downloaded at no cost as it’s in the public domain, on a smartphone than if I curled up in my chair and read the printed book?

I don’t want to sound like I am throwing cold water on the study, but the article doesn’t specify how high the reading quality threshold was. Perhaps a good number of those 2,000 people in the study that read books, as their potential stimulant, must have been reading comic books or especially lurid regency romances instead of more challenging fare.

The study results suggest a host of negative consequences. If our children ever found out about this, they would refuse, directly, to study books and they would snatch them from our hands just as if books were tobacco or alcohol. If I can’t justify busying myself reading a book, what is to prevent me from getting up off my duff and helping out with the dishes? Indeed, if gluing together Popsicle sticks is neuroprotective, surely a case is makeable for vacuuming the floors is as well, in which case, I am left with no excuse but to pitch in and help, unless I can argue that the issue deserves further research. Moreover, if reading does not prevent mental decline, surely watching television must be even worse. Am I supposed to give up television as well?

Reading has always given me a lot of pleasure, whether in order to escape, imagine or learn. I give up reading for the sake of preserving my faculties. Besides, the study didn’t say reading was bad for me: it just said it wasn’t associated with a slowing of cognitive decline.

If I turn off my devices, does it mean instant cognitive decline?

It’s not as though I like to spend my time bronco busting, which can lead to instant cognitive decline. If necessary and, so as I can earn the right to read a book, I’ll promise to sharpen the saw by taking my wife to the movies once a week. The Regent had “Manchester by the Sea” on last week and is showing “La La Land” this week. I’ve already earned the right to read two books and to watch the Academy Awards on television.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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