“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.” ― G.K. Chesterton
I have a dear friend, also a retired air traffic controller, who is now an author of fiction
. We met recently for coffee to catch up, as we try to do several times a year. Our visits inevitably turn to our various writing projects. I admire her ability to create characters and the stories in which they come to life. In fact I am in awe of this gift.
My writing is quite different, in that I enjoy rescuing stories
that would otherwise go untold. I give my ancestors and others who have gone before, a voice in the now,
while she gives voice to characters she creates. This of course, is the fundamental difference between the non-fiction biographical world, and fiction.
While biographies and historical tomes are very important, novels— particularly literary fiction, delves deep into a character’s thoughts and motivations and serves a unique purpose: They require us to think about what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
“Reading novels exercises a part of your brain called the default-mode network, which deteriorates in cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other mental-health disorders,” says John Hutton, M.D., an assistant professor at the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
. “That network is activated when you use your imagination to bring a story to life.”
Additionally, a 2013 University of Toronto study
showed that short-story readers could be more creative and open-minded than participants who read nonfiction essays. And researchers at the New School in New York City found that after reading literary fiction, study participants scored higher on a test that required them to infer other people’s mental states than those who read pop fiction or nonfiction did.
All of which points to the notion that empathy is a muscle you need to actively work to keep strong and flexible. Imagine how much kinder the world might be if everyone read fiction!
A richer vocabulary. You encounter new words, so keep a dictionary of some sort handy to fully appreciate new found word friends.
As stated above, you develop a deeper understanding of others. Empathy is cultivated.
A longer life span (by nearly two more years, according to a 2016 Yale School of Public Health study). I’ll take that!
This habit has shown to reduce symptoms of depression. This may be why the image of curling up with a good book by the fire on long winter evenings is so calming.
It makes us feel part of a community. For me reading is a solitary exercise, but discussing some of the insights I get with my spouse is also fun.
It helps stave off dementia. Our brains need exercise like any other part of our bodies! Keep those neurotransmitters sharp.
Healthy Imagination And Dreams
My friend has allowed me the honor of reading a couple of her draft manuscripts. I am not an editor or a literary critic, just a potential reader of her creations. I enjoy getting a sneak peak into her latest work. Although I may offer some observations, she has others to help them become public and marketable.
Not all of us have the opportunity to read a friend’s creations, but we all can get all the benefits of reading fiction. All it takes is 20-30 minutes a day. I read fiction at night before retiring as part of my evening bedtime routine. I find my dreams sweeter and my creative mind nourished.
What fiction are you reading? Do you have a list you are working through? Is there an author you prefer? Please let me know in the comment section. I look forward to hearing from you.