The Human Library Organisation replaces pages with people


WHY do we read books? Harper Lee believed that reading was an existential matter, as important to life as breathing. Emily Dickinson claimed books were like vessels to far-off lands. Gustave Flaubert wrote that the only way to tolerate existence was to lose oneself in literature “as in a perpetual orgy”. Whatever one’s reasons for reading, scientists believe that such physical metaphors have a basis in reality: reading is an embodied experience. Words on a page activate sensory neurons in the brain in a way that mirrors what would happen if you were to perform them. The phenomenon is called “grounded cognition”: you don’t just read a book—you touch, taste and smell it. 

By offering different characters’ viewpoints, stories encourage us to empathise. Studies show that this is particularly true of literary fiction, with its focus on relationships and character development. The psychological awareness that we are endowed with after reading a work of fiction can last for several days. Books filled with stock…Continue reading

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Redeeming Mary Magdalene

EVERY generation of artists has brought its own sensibilities and experiences to the depiction of canonical Christian stories. Giotto, an Italian painter, set Bible scenes in medieval Tuscany. Rembrandt gave his a hint of mercantile 17th-century Amsterdam. “Mary Magdalene” is similarly a retelling of some of the faith’s main events …

The mysterious reggaeton bangers of Mexico’s election

FOR evidence that modern democracy has lost its pep, look back to the age of cheery campaign jingles. The art form dominated elections from America to the Philippines after the second world war. Australian political parties used them well into the 1980s. It is tempting to believe that melodious campaigns …

The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few …