Maryanne Wolf

How to Fix Your Reading Brain

In her fantastic book, Reader Come Home, Maryanne Wolf describes a time in her adult life when she longed to read books like she had as a child. She was hungry for something substantial after realizing that a life full of 140-character tweets, digital media providing non-stop sensory overload, and “hollow” reading experiences, left her feeling transparent. She wanted to sink her literary teeth into something that mattered. So, she returned to a book that won the Nobel Prize in 1946 called Magister Ludi. As a young woman, she loved this book, and now that she had returned to it as an adult, something was off. In fact, she hated it.


I’ve never read Magister Ludi, but in Wolf’s words, she describes it as a book that “seemed obdurately opaque to me: too dense (!) with unnecessarily difficult words and sentences whose snakelike constructions obfuscated, rather than illuminated, meaning for me. The pace of action was impossible” (99).

She couldn’t read it. Her brain had changed. Now, subsisting on a steady diet of quick information and digital dopamine hits, she was unable to sit with a “complex” book and enjoy it. Do you ever feel that way? I know I have.

Wolf explains that she nearly threw the book out, but then decided to give it one last chance. Instead of forcing herself to try and love it, she would read for twenty minutes a day without judgement. “It took two weeks. Somewhere near the end of that many days, I experienced a much less dramatic form of St. Paul of Tarsus’s epiphany. No flash of light or brilliant insight. I simply felt, at last, that I was home again, returned to my former reading self” (100).

She had to wean her brain off the sugary forms of entertainment in favor of something more nutritions. It took time, in her case 14 days, but eventually her “wired” brain settled down into a “reading” brain. If you’re frustrated with your reading performance, give it time. You’ve been trained to follow the blinking lights, bright sounds, and tantalizing games on you phone. If you can commit to reading for 20 minutes a day, in just a few weeks your brain will remember what it feels like to do something meaningful.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited:

Wolf, Mary. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper, 2018.

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