I’d like to say I knew this all along. Just about any reading geek would.
But it was news to me too, even though, perhaps it shouldn’t be. The Harvard Business Review Blog has a feature on an article in Scientific American Mind regarding the importance of reading novels. Evidently, people who read a lot of novels have better social skills.
You probably think that sounds counterintuitive. Afterall, the cliche image of a bookworm is some kid or adult walking around with his or her nose stuck in a book. The book goes everywhere the person does, and he or she is more comfortable reading about imaginary people than dealing with real ones.
It seems, though, that reading about the lives of fictional characters and their problems and solutions offers insight into real people. According to the study, reading fiction activates neuronal pathways in the brain that help the person better understand real human emotions. Read about Yossarian’s fear of flying bombing missions, and you may better understand fear in your friends. Camus’s The Stranger may give you some insight into different means of expressing grief.
The better we are at recognizing others’ emotions, the better we can interact with them. That translates to more effective social skills.
Naturally, HBR sees a real business application to this phenomenon. By being able to recognize and understand emotions in others, one can get along better and work more effectively in a team environment. It also figures that being an avid reader and developing better social skills would make one a more effective employee and negotiator, thereby leading to a higher salary.
And here you thought reading was only for pleasure.
If all this is true, it probably doesn’t matter what type of literature you are reading. Whether it’s the classics, romance, fantasy, or thrillers, what really matters are complex characters. People who are more than cutout stereotypes will hone the mind and allow you operate more effectively in the real world.
I encourage you to click on the links above and read both the original article and the HBR blog. Both are a fascinating look at how fiction is a tool we should all be using to be more effective in our interpersonal relationships.
And, of course, I’d be happy to help by having you read my book. Afterall, there are lots of complex characters interacting with each other and a hostile world. Surely reading STATE OF GRACE has some redeeming social value. I’ve provided links below to order it.
Cuz I’m helpful like that.