It is a commonplace for academics to consider crime fiction as an experimental and hermeneutic genre, open to multiple meanings. Doesn’t it ask the reader to engage actively with the text they read, in order to produce their own interpretation ? In Roland Barthes terms, reading crime novels would appear as a writerly activity : the reader finds in taking control of the narrative a textual bliss most akin to the act of writing. But what about reading crime fiction in a Foreign language ? Quite apart from the reasons why it is increasingly often taught at University level as part of a degree in Modern Languages (on which a blog post shall follow soon), there seem to be a number of health benefits too. This is at least according to studies, conducted at the University of Lund, on the neurological virtues of reading in a different language.
Picking up a foreign language novel will give your brain a workout
Researchers tested Students from the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, where intensive language learning is the norm, and medicine and cognitive science students at Umea University. Both groups underwent brain scans just prior to and right after a three-month period of intensive study. Amazingly, the language students experienced brain growth in both the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, with different levels of brain growth according to the amount of effort and learning students experienced in that period of time.
And the following works also if you simply read the novels in translation, rather than in the original language…
Story structure encourages our brains to think in sequence, expanding our attention spans:
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and that’s a good thing for your brain. With this structure, our brains are encouraged to think in sequence, linking cause and effect. The more you read, the more your brain is able to adapt to this line of thinking. Neuroscientists encourage parents to take this knowledge and use it for children, reading to kids as much as possible. In doing so, you’ll be instilling story structure in young minds while the brain has more plasticity, and the capacity to expand their attention span.
Reading changes your brain structure (in a good way):
Not everyone is a natural reader. Poor readers may not truly understand the joy of literature, but they can be trained to become better readers. And in this training, their brains actually change. In a six-month daily reading program from Carnegie Mellon, scientists discovered that the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain actually increased. Further, they showed that brain structure can be improved with this training, making it more important than ever to adopt a healthy love of reading.
Deep reading makes us more empathetic:
It feels great to lose yourself in a book, and doing so can even physically change your brain. As we let go of the emotional and mental chatter found in the real world, we enjoy deep reading that allows us to feel what the characters in a story feel. And this in turn makes us more empathetic to people in real life, becoming more aware and alert to the lives of others.