Scott Hollifield: Science puts in a good word for books

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I would have been much duller had I not had access to books at an early age.

My mom and dad were not college graduates but they were voracious readers. Books were everywhere while I was growing up, first in the small trailer between the gas station and the flea market where I made my first memories and later in the brick rancher across the creek that my parents saved for, bought, finished and turned into a home that stands proudly to this day, though our family took some twists and turns along the way.

Still, there were always books, from classics to collections of Southern short stories to crime fiction to westerns. There were several DIY manuals and how-be-a-handyman volumes that did not hold the appeal of the old paperback copy of Xaviera Hollander’s best-selling memoir “The Happy Hooker: My Own Story” I discovered one fortuitous day. Years later, I am still not much of a plumber but I have no regrets about my choice of literature.

That brings us to the results of a new study, published by ScienceDirect, which looked at 31 societies and “document(ed) advantageous effects of scholarly culture for adult literacy, adult numeracy, and adult technological problem solving,” reads an online abstract. “Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education or own educational or occupational attainment.”

In other words, books are good.

After my initial Dr. Seuss and Jack Tales phase and before my eye-opening introduction to the adventures of Xaviera Hollander, the first books I recall catching my attention were The Hardy Boys mystery series, tattered brown hardbacks that had somehow survived my father’s own youth. They chronicled the adventures of brothers Frank and Joe, two young amateur detectives. Even though the series began back in 1927 the boys remain popular today.

As a kid, I marveled at the prolific output of writer Franklin W. Dixon until later learning the name was a pseudonym and an army of ghostwriters churned out the tales, which explained the uneven quality that I picked up on even as a young literary critic.

“Joe acted like a dadgum idiot in this one,” I would sometimes complain to my dog, who preferred Nancy Drew.

In elementary school, the arrival of the Scholastic Book Club order was among the educational highlights of the year, right up there with Field Day and anytime we watched a film strip instead of trying to learn the metric system.

When the teacher opened the big box, I took home such lofty tomes as “The Cycle Jumpers,” which featured an airborne, soon-to-be-hospitalized Evel Knievel on the cover, and “Great Pro Running Backs,” with a prominent photo of Pittsburg Steeler Franco Harris slipping an Oakland Raiders’ tackle, hinting at the 1970s gridiron action inside. It did not disappoint.

Back to that new study: “Adolescent exposure to books is an integral part of social practices that foster long-term cognitive competencies," writes a research team led by Joanna Sikora of Australian National University and reported by Pacific Standard.

In other words, books are good.

My daughter grew up in a house full of books. Her mom, for many years a children’s librarian, helped instill in her the love of literature. I like to think I helped a little, too, but she prefers the Harry Potter series to “The Cycle Jumpers” or anything featuring Franco Harris.

To each his or her own, I suppose.

In conclusion, moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas should some books lying around the house for the young ones to take a look at. Science says it helps develop their brains and, even though I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I trust science almost as much as I trust Xaviera Hollander.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews.com.

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