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Reason #1: Exercises Your Imagination
In writing fiction, the author uses her imagination to creatively tell a good story. In reading fiction, the reader also exercises his imagination to “suspend disbelief,” an act of temporarily allowing himself to believe something that is not true.
Along the spectrum of fiction, there are several types of stories that demand little from the reader’s imagination, as well as some genres that put the imagination through the ringer.
- A work of fiction such as Olive Kitteridge* that is grounded in contemporary life
VERDICT: not much stretching of the imagination is needed to believe the story
VERDICT: the fact that a story is imagined in the historical past takes some effort on the part of the reader to believe parts of the story
VERDICT: hands down, magic of any kind requires us to suspend our disbelief
VERDICT: reading and enjoying these two genres require an imagination boot camp
In short, the farther removed from your current reality the story is, the more you are asked to stretch your imagination to believe the story. When storytelling is done right, readers are easily able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the work of fiction.
And, the greatest fictional stories do become real for their passionate fans. An enchanting world or a lovable character can inspire such enduring memes as “Frodo lives!”
Reason #2: Helps Build Empathy
A recent study reported in Scientific American suggests that reading fiction, especially literary fiction, builds empathy and may improve social functioning.
“Literary fiction...focuses more on the psychology of characters and their relationships...This genre prompts the reader to imagine the characters’ introspective dialogues. This psychological awareness carries over into the real world,...They [the characters] support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.”
Empathy has long been believed to be an important soft skill to learn. And it may very well be an essential component for repairing human society.
Reason #3: Fills the Well
For a fiction-writer like myself, reading fiction is an activity that renews my spirit and fills my creative well. This concept of "filling the well" comes from Julia Cameron’s creativity guide, The Artist's Way.* Cameron insists that we need to maintain an inner reservoir from which to draw if we are going to continue to create.
I would add that we also need to maintain this inner well if we are going to continue to thrive. So, for many people around the world, reading fiction becomes an activity of rest, relaxation, and escape from the busyness of modern living.
Since the creation of the world's first novel - which by the way is arguably the Japanese Tale of Genji,* written in the 11th century - fiction continues to offer readers these three benefits along with many more.
I invite you to make time to read fiction, whether it be your favorite fantasy book or a compelling literary debut. For the sake of your well-being, it will be so worth it.