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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Visualising the careers of musicians-turned-actors

THE news of Harry Styles’s casting in “Dunkirk” (2017) was met with bemusement. It was hard to imagine the boyband heartthrob, with his Mick Jagger-esque locks and floral suits, under siege on the beaches of northern France (rather than under siege from hordes of teenage girls). Did a short comic …

Britain could become basketball’s latest global outpost

FOR ONE night a year the O2 Arena, London’s biggest indoor stadium, belongs to basketball. On January 11th the 20,000-seat venue hosted its eighth regular-season fixture since 2011, between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, the former of whom are genuine championship contenders this season in the National Basketball …

Is art-connoisseur yet another job threatened by technology?

THE patient is carefully positioned on a pristine rectangular table. A signal is given, and from behind a glass wall, a technician directs an X-ray machine overhead. Zapping begins. This is not a hospital. It is the conservation laboratory of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Visits here were part of the …