12th February, 2019

Review: The Enchanted Hour - The miraculous power of reading aloud in the age of distraction
by Meghan Cox Gurdon (Piatkus Books)

Based on new neuroscientific evidence and behavioural research, Gurdon's book discusses the amazing cognitive and emotional benefits that children who are read to can benefit from. The author uses a broad variety of examples from literature and talks about her own experiences in reading to others.

Reading aloud is in fact an ancient practice that began even long before Anglo-Saxon minstrels recited epic poetry in the mead halls. The telling of stories is something inherently human, something that helps us to make sense of the world. Gurdon argues that it's particularly in our digital times that sitting down with a printed book, looking at pictures together and immersing oneself in a good story is the perfect "fast-working antidote to the fractured attention spans, atomised families and funfulfilling ephemera of the tech era, helping to replenish what our devices are leaching away." Reading aloud is an astonishing excercise for the mind, and for children it helps build vocabulary, kindles the imagination and fosters an appreciation for language and stories. But it's not just about reading to children. The book also covers the effects of reading aloud to adults, including looking at audiobooks, podcasts, etc. The simultaneously soothing and stimulating practice of reading stories aloud has astonishing benefits for all age groups. 

This was a very interesting read and even though we already read a lot in this house and story time is a fixed entity in our daily schedule, I still felt that this book was eye-opening in many ways. It makes you reconsider your own use of screen time and I actually made a resolution to put my phone away more often from now on. I also very much enjoyed the historical look at storytelling traditions and, maybe even more so, the personal little anecdotes from Gurdon's own life. The author brings together elements of a memoir with lots of scientific research and it's exactly this mixture that made this book so interesting. The case studies, for example of preemie babies that are being read to and the incredible effects this had on their brain development, were fascinating and Gurdon's casual writing style made for pleasant reading. However, there were quite a few repetitions, some chapters seemed a bit lenghty, and after about half of the book it occassionally felt a bit like someone was preaching to me about how awesome books are. And they are! No doubt about it! But Gurdon's praise became a bit too over-eager sometimes. That's a bit of a shame as I think that but a teeny tiny bit of stricter editing would have remedied that effect. I still highly recommend this book, especially to anyone who has children or works with them.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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