Sharon falls in love with her books, but not faithfully. She commits to live happily ever after with one book, but later she abandons it and dates another in secret, only to return to the arms of the first book, findings comfort and solace in its pages. She is a general, commanding an army of books that occupy our home. Some are obedient, standing tall next to each other on shelves like good soldiers, but others have defected from the line of duty. They lie on top of each other at different angles and threatening to fall. At times her books are angry and crowd hungry for attention. They demonstrate on chairs and sofas and on tables and desks. Yet others are shy, quietly waiting for their turn, hiding in the bedroom upstairs, in the kitchen cabinets, and on the countertop, just around the fruit plate. Whether they are non-fiction or fiction; biographies or memoirs, suspense or murder mysteries; simple stories or convoluted plots, Sharon reads them all.
Like Sharon, I read too. But I choose my books carefully. I judge books by their cover, and by their weight, and the size of their fonts. I like short stories in soft covers, and moderately complex essays with bright, concise ideas. To prevent confusion, I prefer tales with less than five characters whose names and looks are different from each other.
I prefer plots in which nobody hops on an airplane, and all characters stay put. I like my readings to be completed in one sitting: articles on current and past events, art and leisure, money and business, science and medicine. When I read, I fashionably wear a pencil tucked behind my ear, and at times when I feel the urge, I draw it like a sword, and I mark interesting ideas, words that I did not know existed, and just anything I find beautiful.
SHAHAR MADJAR, M.D.
The other night, I asked Sharon: "In the end, what will happen to our memories?" She stopped reading her thick book, "War and Peace," I believe it was, and said, "write a memoir and your memories will last forever. I may read it too, if I find some time."
I thought the discussion on memories was over, but on the next day Sharon urgently correspond, via email, informing me that she just read an article I would be interested in,. "It is about memory, memories, and their preservation," she wrote. The study "Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging" was conducted by Robert Wilson and his colleagues from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It was published in "Neurology." Participants in the study were first asked about their life-long participation in cognitively-stimulating activities such as writing letters, visiting a library and reading books.
Their cognitive function (including their memory) was then measured, yearly, using 19 different tests. Several years later, once the study participants eventually died (of natural cause I must clarify; the authors should be congratulated for their patience), their brains were removed, and their brain tissue preserved, sectioned (I will spare you the details), examined under the microscope and evaluated for changes typical of Alzheimer's disease (amyloid burden, presence of Lewy bodies). The results were clear: "more frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline." In other words: the more people read, the better they remember.
I tried to remind myself that statistical associations do not necessarily mean cause-and-effect relationships. But still in my mind I could see the droves of avid readers, discussing the findings of this research in book stores and in libraries, in book clubs and in literary forums over the Internet. As for myself, and just to be on the safe side, I immediately asked Sharon for some book recommendations, longer books, with multiple characters who tirelessly wander around the world in search of meaning.
Editor's note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming. Read and comment on prior columns by Dr. Madjar at DrMadjar.com