Reading and Health
Can literary reading, individually and collectively, have a positive influence on health and well-being?
Much would indicate that literary reading can have positive health effects. At the same time, it’s also clear that literary reading today is a widely diverse practice that concerns so much more than individual, silent reading in private. We can discuss our reading experiences with each other digitally or online, participate in book circles or in literature festivals and book fairs. Literary reading today has a clear social dimension.
Similarly, the term ‘health’ is multifaceted and can have a long list of meanings. Its focus can be on somatic, psychological or social aspects. If we start with a multidisciplinary concept of health in line with WHO’s definition – physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of illness or disability – it becomes obvious that not only literary reading but also health can be given a range of different meanings.
Because both literary reading and health can mean widely different things, it is clear that the importance of literary reading for health constitutes a broad, diverse field of research in which different reading practices can be studied from a more or less inclusive health concept. There are many possible combinations.
In this ASG, we compare and review literature-based practices and interventions developed in recent years to promote human health and inner development. We delve into bibliotherapy, shared reading, narrative medicine and culture on prescription that include elements of literature, and we look at research into these practices. Today, this research is carried out across multiple disciplines, from varying theoretical standpoints and using a variety of methods. Because this not only represents a starting point, but also a challenge for the ASG’s joint efforts, we're keen to create an overview and critically review earlier research in the field of literary reading and health, and to highlight the most important results. What quantitative and qualitative methods were used to evaluate the health effects of different types of literary reading and literature-based interventions?
We also want to compare and see what can be learned through experience in work with, and research into, other artistic genres from a health perspective by focusing on capabilities and limitations regarding individual and collective practices in e.g. music and theatre.
The goal of our work in the ASG is to formulate a sustainable platform in terms of theory and methodology for further studies in the field of literary reading and health, with a focus on the social dimensions of literary reading and its effects.