‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’ So said the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero.
If a room without books lacks soul, imagine an entire home without books. To me, that’s a bleak vision. Empty. Lonely.
How many books do you own? Books on shelves, in bookcases filled to bursting, scattered on coffee tables, piled high on the bedside table…
Researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Nevada conducted a study to see how the number of books in a household affects educational outcomes for children. They asked adults aged 25 to 65 in 31 countries how many books they had in their home when they were 16. The average books per household were as follows:
Czech Republic: 204
Russian Federation: 154
What’s really interesting about this study is that the researchers found the more books in a child’s home, the better the child will perform academically over time – even if the child doesn’t read more than his/her counterpart who’s growing up with fewer books. The adult who grew up with a sizeable home library will demonstrate better literacy, numeracy and technological problem-solving skills than the adult who did not, independent of whether the adult attended university or read plenty in adulthood. In fact, the study found that adults with university degrees but who had smaller home libraries had the same level of literacy as adults who left school at 15/16 but had grown up with books around them.
So, whatever a child’s gender, age, nationality, educational opportunities and parents’ level of education, the child is at an advantage simply for growing up with books in the home.
The lead author of the study, Dr Joanna Sikora, told the Guardian that ‘it was not the act of reading specifically that brought benefits… There is more to it. It is a whole complex around books and reading. It’s important for young children to see their parents and other people surrounding themselves with books.’
I’m fascinated by the idea that simply being surrounded by books can much such a difference to a person’s development. Books are soulful; books are company; books aren’t interior decoration – they’re as essential as the bricks and mortar in the walls. Something to keep in mind if you ever find yourself thinking you have ‘too many’ books; that you should have a clear-out or quit bringing home a new treasure from the bookstore.
Keep books. Keep many books!