Study Confirms Growing Up in a Home Filled With Books Is Good for You

iStock.com/clu
iStock.com/clu

People who buy more books than they can possibly read can now use science to justify their spending sprees. As Pacific Standard reports, new research confirms that people who grow up with books at home tend to have higher reading comprehension and better mathematical and digital communication skills.

But how many books is enough to make a difference? The magic number seems to be above 80, according to a team of researchers led by senior sociology lecturer Joanna Sikora of Australian National University. Those who had around 80 books at home tended to have average scores for literacy—defined as "the ability to read effectively to participate in society and achieve personal goals”—while owning fewer than 80 books was associated with below-average literacy. Literacy continued to improve as the number of books increased to about 350, at which point the literacy rates remained steady.

Their findings are based on comprehensive surveys taken between 2011 and 2015 by the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies. Respondents were between the ages of 25 and 65, and they came from 31 countries, including the U.S. and Canada. First, they were asked to estimate how many books they had at home when they were 16 years old. After racking their brains for a mental image of their childhood libraries, they were tested for reading comprehension, their understanding of common mathematical concepts, and their ability to use digital technology as a communication tool. The results showed a positive correlation between these skill sets and having books at home.

"Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education, or [one's] own educational or occupational attainment," the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the journal Social Science Research.

The greatest impact, not surprisingly, was seen in the area of reading comprehension. Likewise, a 20-year study from 2010 suggested that access to a home library impacts a child’s educational attainment just as much as their parents’ occupations and education levels. Researchers aren’t sure if digital books will have the same positive effects if they eventually outnumber printed materials, but the team behind this latest study did point out that “home library size is positively related to higher levels of digital literacy.”

[h/t Pacific Standard]

The Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

Mundal, Norway Is Home to More Books Than People

Markus Tacker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Markus Tacker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Mundal, Norway, isn't the busiest town in Norway, but as long you're an avid reader, you'll never get bored there. According to Travel + Leisure, Mundal is home to more books than people, a distinction earning it the nickname "The Norwegian Book Town."

Mundal is small, with only 280 residents, but it boasts an impressive second-hand books scene, with roughly 150,000 books scattered throughout the town. And the reading materials aren't limited to its many secondhand book shops: They can be found in abandoned sheds, a grocery store, a post office, and even an old ferry waiting area. If all the bookshelves in the town were lined up end-to-end, they would cover more than 2.5 miles.

Only accessible by boat until the mid-1990s, Mundal is one of the most isolated book towns on Earth. Picking up a literary souvenir from the town isn't easy, as it's only open to visitors during the warmer months from May though September. To get your hands on a book from Mundal without booking a trip to Norway, you can purchase one online.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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