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7 Reasons Why You Should Read Fiction
I’m a bit of a weirdo among writers because I don’t condemn the TV. On the contrary, I think everyone, and especially serious writers, should watch a lot of television, including TV comedies and dramas, because the broadcast format provides perspective that you can’t get from reading a novel. This goes against the popular narrative that television is a scourge that should be eliminated from the entertainment landscape.
On the other hand, the recent trend has been to watch more TV and more movies and read less, and when reading, to read non-fiction rather than fiction. The reasons given range from “reading is difficult” to “the novels are not informative”. But what most people don’t realize is that the written word, and fiction in particular, offers benefits that you can’t get from other media. For example:
Reading fiction can help you improve your people skills. A 2008 study by Raymond Mar found that people who read more fiction score higher on tests of empathy and social insight, and people who read more nonfiction score higher. lower. Maybe it’s because through fiction you experience the social interactions and relationships of the characters in a way that most non-fiction doesn’t.
Reading fiction stimulates the imagination. When reading fiction, your mind reconstructs each scene in much more detail than the author has described it. It does this by visualizing non-existent people and places in the story, often basing those visualizations on actual people and places you have seen. It is the human capacity to imagine, to dream, to speculate, to reflect. The ability to imagine separates us from other animals. It allows us to strategize, to plan, to reason, to learn, to create a better world than the one that existed before.
Books are cheaper hour-by-hour entertainment than movies or DVDs. Especially in times of economic crisis, it makes sense to foster the enjoyment of written fiction. For the same price as a 2 hour movie or DVD, you can get a book that will keep you entertained for days or even weeks. Or you can borrow it for free from your local library.
Reading relieves stress and doesn’t over-stimulate like television can. Most modern TV shows are designed to capture your attention by constantly pulsating your brain with sharp sounds and transitions. It activates your brain and creates stress. Research from the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. Or as cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis put it, “Getting lost in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”
Fiction allows us to enter the narrative, to imagine ourselves in it, in a way that non-fiction cannot. Even a biography is already finished before you start reading it, because it is about a real person. Even if you don’t know the specific story of a particular biographical figure, biographies are rarely written about the losers, while the loser is the basic building block of the fictional story. Or as an English professor from Wichita, Kansas put it, “The unknowability of fiction makes it look a lot like life as we live it.”
The mind absorbs new information more easily through stories. Humans are by nature story creatures, learning through experience and metaphor. Teaching through storytelling is a tradition as old as human thought itself. This is one of the reasons why, even though fiction is about people who never existed and events that never happened, all fictional people and events are based on reality. As psychologists Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell explain in their book Dream Reality“The reason the stories are so satisfying and illuminating is that they tap into the same process that nature uses for the transmission of knowledge.”
Reading, and reading fiction in particular, can make you a better speaker and writer. In modern times, communication skills are more important than ever. And because storytelling is a key skill in imparting knowledge, you’ll become a better communicator if you learn how to tell stories. And the best way to learn to tell stories is to see them told. In general, exposing yourself to language, as occurs when you read, will instinctively improve your own language and communication skills.
Still can’t imagine yourself reading a whole novel? Try the short story. Yes, the news has been dying for a while, but that’s because readers aren’t interested. Even so, classic and recently released collections of short stories continue to be published, and for the busy 21st century citizen, short stories offer the benefits of fiction in small portions that they can more easily appreciate.
Fiction should be an essential part of every person’s lifestyle because anyone who doesn’t read it at least occasionally is missing out on the benefits it offers.
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