Is Reading Really A Sign Of Intelligence?

Dear Audy,

My apologies for not writing to you very often in recent times. Flares have been holding my brain hostage. Thankfully it’s Autumn now and history tells me that I will be able to take better control of my mind and body in the cooler weather. Yay, Autumn!

As I slowly work through replying to your responses to last week’s post on learning to read again, I feel a little bit closer to you, a little less alone and a little more satisfied with where I am now, in this journey through chronic pain.

It wasn’t until I read through some of these comments and emails that I realised that whilst “reading difficulties” isn’t likely to appear on any symptom list anytime soon, it’s hidden in there under “concentration difficulties”. Chronic pain throws a person’s life into chaos and if that person happened to be an avid reader, losing that part of themselves is as tough as losing any other part (the employed part, the part that goes hiking, the dancing part, etc).

In the eyes of society, reading and intelligence intermingle in many ways. There’s a basic assumption that smart people read and less smart people do not, that smart readers read classic literature and less smart readers read romance novels.

I don’t really buy into this. If I did, some days I’d be the world’s brainiest bookworm and on others, a dimwitted trash fan that is looking forward to getting a copy of Snooki’s literary debut.

Is one of me more intelligent that the other even though neither of me bothered to brush her hair?

Not liking Shakespeare doesn’t mean you are any less intelligent than his biggest fan; loving $5 novels or tabloid magazines doesn’t mean you are any less intelligent than that snobby librarian who sly eyes your selections. It’s OK to enjoy some things that are educational and some things that are just plain entertaining.

However, what if I was buying into the whole literary elitist thing in the past? Was that the thing that made it so frustrating for me to read when I was coming to terms with my CRPS?

Not being able to use my brain, at my will, made me feel like chronic pain had literally taken my intelligence. I didn’t feel like myself anymore, I felt damaged on more than a physical level.

My problem actually had nothing to do with books themselves, it was all about perspective and a few key realisations:

  • Intelligence isn’t about reading, it’s about learning.
  • Reading isn’t necessarily the most effective way to learn all things.
  • Intelligence isn’t about consistency or topics of interest.
  • Taste isn’t always a reflection of intelligence.
  • Learning is never a shameful act.
  • Discovering new ways to do familiar tasks are just as “intelligent” as mastering the physics of space and time. Intelligence is defined as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”… the specifics of that is as open as the realm of possibilities for adapting behaviour and skills around a limiting obstacle such as chronic pain.

    Letting go of a link between reading and intelligence makes being open to new methods of learning much easier. Some people will have more success with learning by listening to information or watching a presentation rather than picking up a book. Those people aren’t any less intelligent than the ones with bookshelves lining every wall in their house.

    By definition, it’s more intelligent to learn a new way to do something rather than avoid it because the old way has become impossible. It’s more intelligent to keep finding new approaches and make changes. It’s more intelligent to fight to overcome chronic pain than to merely lament the activities that it seems to have stolen.

    Nowadays, I enjoy my “trash” freely and my more involved readings when I am able. Deciding when/what I am up for reading has just become another part of day to day living with chronic pain and is tied in with the pain rehabilitation approach of pacing to avoid burnout.

    I love books, many kinds of books. I don’t think that makes me smarter/stupider or better/worse than anybody, but perhaps once upon a time I did. Frankly, I’m pleased to be free of such a flawed perception and open to the possibility that lessons can come from anywhere.

    Nicole Richie taught me that you should never stuff your bra with toilet paper, because then your tits will smell like arse. If that’s not a valuable lesson, I don’t know what is.

    What do you think, Audy? Do you think that people who read are necessarily more intelligent than those who don’t? Do you judge people on whether or not they have books in their home, or feel anxious about what others will think of your collection?

    Love & Ponderings,

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  • 2 thoughts on “Is Reading Really A Sign Of Intelligence?

    1. Della

      I feel like non-readers are missing out on incredible worlds that could be at their fingertips. I happen to have a great love for many kid’s books. Not the short learn to read kind, but the full length kind. They are so refreshing and less jaded than books aimed at adults. Some young adult books are good, though not as many as kid’s books. Seems like even fewer adult books appeal to me, though I’ve read/listened to large numbers of all three. I love audio books, so I can knit and listen. I find that my RSD concentration makes even those difficult to focus on, at times.

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Ah, I love kid’s fiction too! Going back to it took a lot of years for me, probably because of that idea that if I was intelligent then I should be reading heavier stuff. Silly past me ;P I love Cornelia Funke, she’s my favourite children’s author. I have often thought that people who don’t read are missing out, however recently I have been thinking that it’s a bit narrow minded of me – just because I derive so much pleasure from stories doesn’t mean that everybody does. I’m sure that avid sportspeople feel like those that don’t like sport are missing out on something too. I guess that the love of words just isn’t built into everybody. I’ve been thinking a lot on this topic as I’ve been changing my perspective and trying to throw out all book snobbery and stop assuming that people who don’t read are missing out on anything. I really have no idea of the amazing things that they enjoy but which I have no taste for. Man, it’s weird how many levels of judginess and assumption make up my personality, uncovering them is an endless adventure! ;D xx

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