Like many adults, I read a fair share of non-fiction books. Topics range from self-help, philosophy, and history to gardening and cookbooks. Many adults stop reading fiction after the high school days of forced reading. With our busy lives, why read fiction?
Humans have told stories for millennia, and we started telling stories as soon as we had language. Oral storytelling is how many cultures passed on their ancient myths and legends. Fiction builds on this tradition.
Reading fiction builds empathy. Our imagination translates the words in a book. As a reader, we picture the world, taste the five-course meal, smell the forest floor and feel the character’s pain. We can read about distant lands and cultures and fall in love with a person who only exists on a page. Watching TV does not have the same impact on our minds.
Fiction allows you to escape reality and walk in someone else’s shoes.
Reading science fiction and fantasy is the equivalent of daydreaming. Many scientists began their journey as science fiction readers. Historical fiction allows us to experience the past through stories. A child who dislikes history with dry dates and places might love the same past when told as stories.
There is research to show that reading literary fiction improves the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires. More broadly, their study shows that works of art enhance this critical skill.
Stories are a complex form of communication, and reading stories have a long-lasting effect on the human brain, per this Emory study. Reading fiction helps us better understand others and enhances our ability to keep an open mind, per this Harvard Business Review article.
Finally, reading fiction brings us joy. Overcoming adversity, triumphant underdogs, falling in love, and finding friendships all bring us enjoyment.