…if you want to understand people better, that is. I get how reading non-fiction is great, too. I spend plenty of time reading articles, biographies, cookbooks, memoirs…I read a lot! More than a couple mothers have bemoaned to me that their child reads too much fiction and they’d love for me to encourage them to read books in sciences or history. I can do that, but will not encourage them to read to the exclusion of reading quality fiction. It educates us better than most of would ever guess. I’ve always had that inkling but couldn’t articulate it until I saw the latest research saying reading fiction helps us understand each other better than any other method.
The good news is when you are reading a work of fiction, it’s not just an indulgence, it’s boosting your social skills. Even a few minutes a day will boost your empathy and emotional intelligence. Literary fiction focuses more on the interior life of a character which makes the reader infer their intentions, motivations and thoughts. This is so important! As we read, we are practicing real-world skills we all need to be better to each other, more kind, more understanding, more forgiving.
In a popular fiction book (what I call “fluff”), the characters do what we expect. Not so in literary fiction and not so in life. I hate it when someone makes an assumption on someone’s actions without thinking it through or just settling for their first guess. I’m sorry, but we’re more complex than that. When we read, we know the whole story and can see how circumstances and uncontrollable events effect a person. I want my stereotypes and prejudices challenged and disrupted. I want my kids’ ideas to be rocked when reading about people who are different from them.
But what I most want is to understand the other people God put on the earth with me. I’m tired of walking away from or hearing stories of people who are hurt because someone in their world “just didn’t get it.” I know…it’s often unavoidable, but if you’re a reader of fiction, you’re more often going to get it right. Recently, my 7th graders and I read The Outsiders, a book I think everyone on the planet should read. (You’re welcome, Susan) It teaches so much about people, but early on, Cherry observes to Pony, “you read a lot, don’t you?” I asked my students what would make her say that. Their first guess: Because he has a big vocabulary. Nope. It was because he listened, asked good questions and didn’t judge her. He was open to who she was and the rest of the book showed the fruit of those attributes.
So, if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, please find a book, fiction preferably 🙂 It just might bless the people around you as much as it does you.