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Monday, April 14, 2014

Why You Should Read (and Write) Fiction

Every English teacher has known it since the beginning of time. Reading fiction increases our capacity to relate to others by seeing the world with different eyes. Research backs this up.

In her article "Reading Literature Makes Us Nicer and Smarter" (http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/03/why-we-should-read-literature/), Annie Murphy Paul cites research suggesting, among other things, that fiction develops empathy.

When a reader empathizes, she feels what a character is feeling, exists where the character exists, and temporarily sees through that character's point of view. This can carry over to a reader's own life, making it easier for her to relate to and understand family members, coworkers, and even adversaries.

More than once, reading has managed to do this for me. Through the pages of a good novel, I've experienced important moments where old prejudices were eroded, long-held beliefs were adjusted, and opinions that differed from my own were carefully considered. By vicariously experiencing the world through fictional character's lives, I experience an increased capacity to empathize with others.

This should be sobering information for any person who reads or writes. Words--especially those used to tell compelling stories--have the potential to change the world for better (or worse).