Five Reasons To Read Every Day – No Matter Your Age

Image of ReadingIn today’s increasingly technological world, it can seem as though most our days are spent staring at backlit screens and reading lines upon lines of text. However, step back and truly consider that experience. Internet experiences are specifically curated to deliver as much information, entertainment, or coverage in as direct and easily consumed a manner as possible. In contrast, reading for the express purpose of savoring a literary experience opens up an entire new world of benefits and joyful experiences. These are varied – some might initially strike you as abstract while others yield decidedly tangible positive impacts. Regardless, it is important to recognize that reading is such an integral part of the human experience for many excellent reasons. Below are just five of most prominent.

Stimulate Your Mind

A large body of research exists which indicates that mental stimulation slows the progress, and even has the potential to fully prevent, cognitive deterioration. This has been linked to offsetting the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Simply put, much like any other muscle, keeping your brain active is necessary to maintain its strength. Put simply – use it or lose it. Games and puzzles, like chess, are also helpful when it comes to creating good habits that are both fun and stimulate your cognitive functions.

Reduce Stress

There are certain to be a number constant stressors in your life that are just unavoidable. Whether it be due to challenges you face in your personal or professional spheres, stress is simply a part of life for basically everyone. Fortunately, losing yourself in a great story is an excellent way to find some respite from the demands of your day-to-day life. Great books totally transport you to entirely new worlds, far removed from your own. The best books are even able to color your perspective and perhaps inspire a new frame of mind in you, the reader, to better interpret and shoulder the burdens from which you were originally running. Regardless, a short mental vacation in the pages of a good book are often exactly what you need to let the stress that once weighed you down to just melt away.

Never Stop Learning

One of the most incredible things about humans is our natural proclivity towards learning. Our minds are truly capable of fantastic feats and the nonstop accumulation, organization, and processing data which happens both consciously and unconsciously within our brain is too often taken for granted. Reading packs your mind with new info, most of which may just come in handy one day. The old adage, “knowledge is power,” exists for a reason. Most everything in this world is impermanent. The one exception is your knowledge. Leverage the great power that is your mental capacity and flex that brain! To learn is to live and reading is a great way to learn something new regularly.

Expand Your Vocabulary

Speaking of learning, one of the things reading most directly teaches you about is words. The more of them to which you are exposed, the faster and greater volume of them are certain to find their way into your regular usage. The ability to gracefully and effectively articulate your thoughts is universally beneficial. Being well-spoken comes in handy all the time. Being well-read, well-spoken, and knowledgeable is a wonderful combination of characteristics to fuel everything from your rise up the corporate ladder to a charming and engaging dinner date conversation.

Improve Your Recall

Following a narrative or theme demands a certain degree of cognitive gymnastics. Remembering the rotating cast of characters and their personal histories, ambitions, and nuances takes effort. It also involves keeping tabs on everyone as the plot and subplots twist and weave. Studies show that every new memory you create builds new synapses in your mind, as well as fortifies the pre-existing ones. This not only boosts your short-term memory, but can even stabilize your moods.

The 3 Best Trips to Take This Fall

The seasons are about to change, and for travel lovers that often means getting the travel itch! Fall is a great time to explore the world, and I’ve collected a few favorites just for you.

Salzburg, Austria

Image of travelAside from Salzburg being a beautiful place to visit, it’s also perfect timing for celebrating The Sound of Music’s 50th Anniversary. Fans of the 1965 classic movie have been flocking to Salzburg all year in celebration. There are even Sound of Music-themed events, including the Sound of Music Gala 2015 (October 17) at the historic Felsenreitschule and the Sound of Music musical at the Salzburg Landestheater, you can join in on.

While you’re there, eat at the iconic Sternbräu is one of Austria’s largest restaurant complexes. It opened around 1542 as a brewery and was completely renovated in 2014. Austrian dishes such as fiakergulasch (meat and sausage goulash) and Salzburger nockerl (an egg soufflé dessert) are served in the multiple dining rooms, bars, and beer gardens.

There’s a ton of museums, shops, and cafés just beyond the old city walls, as well as beautiful parks and lakes. If you stop at the Gössl Gwandhau​s​, or “​Gössl ​​cloth hall​,” you can see a​ showcase of the Salzburg-based Gössl clothing brand’s famous dirndls, lederhosen, and boiled wool jackets. It’s housed in a centuries-old country palace surrounded by gardens and meadows and a small museum chronicling the evolution of dirndl and lederhosen fashion. You can take a tour, then enjoy a glass of award-winning Austrian wine at the elegant terrace restaurant.

Kangaroo Island, Australia

Image of travelKangaroo Island is one of Australia’s most preserved locations. Over half of the 1,705-square-mile island is covered in native, old-growth vegetation. Much of the wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and possums, are nocturnal, so after dark is usually the best time to explore. Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offers 90-minute guided wildlife walks every night that begin at sunset. Species that call the island home include the tammar wallaby, western gray kangaroo, brushtail possum, southern boobook owl, echidna, Cape Barren goose, and many species of birds.

While you’re there, eat at The Oyster Farm Shop in American River where they process and package harvest from the island’s largest commercial oyster farm. The farm runs a weekday lunch shack across the street from its processing sheds where you can try freshly shucked or smoked oysters, plus crayfish, abalone, whiting, and marron.

Also make sure to stop in at Jon and Sarah Lark’s Kangaroo Island Spirits at Cygnet River where they serve an affogato with honey and walnut liqueur made from freshly roasted walnuts and Kangaroo Island’s famous Ligurian honey.

Andros, Bahamas

Travel pictureThis pristine island is somewhat of a Bahamas secret, and a scuba divers dream. The “island” consists of a 104-mile-long archipelago of small islets and mangrove-covered cays full of thousands of species of underwater creatures. It’s home to the second largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. It’s most famous for having the world’s largest known concentration of blue holes (underwater caves). Check out the Blue Holes National Park to discover a ton of them.

While you’re there, stop by the middle island, called Mangrove Cay, to eat at fishing guide Shine Greene’s waterfront Conch Shack for fresh conch ceviche and a bottle of Kalik, the “beer of the Bahamas.” You can also go to Davis Creek, just north of Andros Town on North Andros, for some tasty tropical drinks on the oceanfront dock at Brigadiers Restaurant.

If you want to get out of the water for awhile, take a tour the Androsia batik factory to see beautiful pieces of cotton fabric, hand-printed with nature-inspired designs and hand-dyed in vibrant colors. You can purchase the Bahamian batik fabric by the yard or as clothing, pillows, drawstring backpacks, tablecloths, and more at the factory’s outlet store or make your own if you sign up for a batik lesson ahead of time.

Once you’ve scratched that fall-time travel itch, you can get back to the grind. That is, before winter sets in and suddenly you’re in need of an amazing skiing vacation. Happy travels!

Reading Room: How J.R.R. Tolkien Transformed the World by Creating a Universe

Image of the Cover of Lord of the RingsSince Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen and birthed a global cinematic phenomenon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s work has cultivated a modern, international following. When paired with the literature’s original fandom, it far exceeds most anything the world has ever witnessed before. The tale of the One Ring and all the related stories observably impacted generations of fantasy writers, so much so that his influence is starkly visible, even today. Beyond just books, J.R.R. Tolkien introduced characters and tropes of such intense cultural importance that to list where his work rears its head in popular culture would be an utterly exhaustive and arguably impossible endeavor. The way he conceptualized folklore like elves, giants, wizards, dragons, and dwarves is mirrored in various movies, TV shows, novels and comics today. Direct references to his work is mentioned in every conceivable medium of entertainment stretching back decades, from ‘90s sitcom Friends to music by The Beatles.

The question, then, is “why?” What is it about J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing that so deeply moved so many people across not just enormous swaths of space, but also over incredible stretches of time? It is certainly an exciting tale, and the characters are definitely beloved. However, that only really begins to scratch the surface of what makes this work, more than almost any other, so special. In fact, there are literary critics to this day that are happy to debate the narrative merits of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing from a technical standpoint. Although time has made it clear that the action and adventure of the story is beyond exceptional, what makes his body of work truly unique, unlike anything that has come before or since, is its depth.

Typically, the unspoken contract a fiction reader makes with the author is that he or she will suspend disbelief in return for entertainment. Tolkien hammered away at that archaic agreement with the tools he had available – words and his imagination. He called this notion, “secondary creation.” By creating a universe so shockingly rich with history and detail, Tolkien relieves that burden on the reader to suspend disbelief. The universe of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion is so dense and fleshed out, it is easier than anything literature had ever before seen to fully immerse oneself in.

Entire histories, languages, dialects, peoples, traditions, and nations are born, live, and die within these pages. True fans of Tolkien’s work understand that he did not make up a fictional world in which to tell a story – he wrote a story as a line by which to reel us into an impossibly immersive world. Therein lies his genius. He did not just give us fictional characters, he gave us that fictional cultures that defined them…and the histories which created those cultures, as well as the myths which influenced those histories, and so on and so forth. Tolkien’s creation is so deep that it leaves you absolutely craving more, and he endeavored to satiate that craving. This experience is simply unlike anything else available in the pages of a book elsewhere. And, as a result, our world is forever changed by the magic of one created in the mind of a brilliant man.