There’s a general idea in the world that reading is good for you.
Pretty much everyone agrees it’s good for kids to learn to read, that time kids spend reading is time well-spent.
And for adults, it’s the same.
Reading a book generally ranks higher on the Good For You Scale than, say, binge watching Stranger Things 2. (Which may not be true because Stranger Things was awesome.)
If we’re going to get more pompous about our Value of Reading Scale, the world also holds general consensus that non-fiction books are a little bit better for you than fiction.
I mean, what are people going to be more impressed with?
1) You, brow furrowed, nodding along thoughtfully as you read Stephen Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time.
2) You, giggling away at We Have Lost The Coffee by Paul Matthews.
BUT, the world has LIED to us, people.
It turns out that fiction is better than non-fiction at actually changing who we are.
Non-fiction, unsurprisingly, is excellent at teaching us things.
Fiction, on the other hand, turns out to be good for you in a different way. It actually helps you develop the things that make us all human, things like developing empathy and connecting with ideas larger than ourselves.
Kieth Oatley, in an article titled Changing our Minds…by Reading Fiction, says this:
“For more than two thousand years people have insisted that reading fiction is good for you. Aristotle claimed that poetry—he meant the epics…which we would now call fiction—is a more serious business than history. History, he argued, tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people.”
There are several studies mentioned in that article, all showing that reading fiction is really good at helping us grow into better human beings.
This is fabulous.
No more hiding our guilty pleasure novels on public transportation.
If someone gives you the eyebrow for reading Harry Potter, you can point out to them that you’re expanding your emotional universe. And that they, being judgy and mean, really need to read more fiction.
No more letting the non-fiction folks take the moral high ground.
Now you can let that pretentious non-fiction reader at work know that probably they’re an emotional wasteland inside.
And then hand them a copy of Pride and Prejudice.
(Hmmm, come to think of it that response might not exactly win you the moral high ground either…but it’s a start.)
Anyway, just thought I’d point out that, as a fiction author myself, I am making the world a better, more empathetic place, one page at a time.
And you, as a fiction reader, are catapulting humanity into a better version of itself.
Well done, you.
PS – In the spirit of this article, I should mail a copy of my novels to every single world leader. (Never mind the pesky language barrier that would run up against…)
Hello more international empathy, goodbye looming World War III!