If you read Madame Bovary in high school, you might have thought, what’s wrong with this silly woman? If you dared to reread the same novel later in life, your reflections may well have been quite different about the female protagonist struggling to lead an independent life within a male-dominated society.
This is what reading fiction can do for us, experts say. Reading a novel as opposed to a factual non-fiction work allows us to see inside the mind and life of another person, and in so doing, find insight into our own and the lives of others. A 2013 study found that “empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story.” Scientists also stated: “It has been suggested that people who read a lot of fiction become more empathetic, because fiction is a simulation of social experiences, in which people practice and enhance their interpersonal skills.”
Another 2013 study looked at the ability to identify emotions via facial cues. One group read literary fiction and the other popular fiction. Those who read literary fiction – like Madame Bovary and All the Light We Cannot See – scored higher than the group reading books like Gone Girl. The conclusion was that reading about more complex characters possibly helps us to be more understanding about the emotions of real people around us.
We certainly think our Board of Directors volunteers are a group of empathetic individuals! Most of them are avid readers and especially enjoy reading fiction. One member said fiction was preferred because of the “thought-provoking topics I don’t often get from nonfiction.” Another likes fiction due to “entertainment, descriptions of locations and types of people, plus discussions of ideas and culture.” “Insight into the human condition” was still another benefit from reading fiction cited.
We also asked our Board which fiction titles they recommend as “musts” for adult readers. Following is their Top 12 List. Happy Holiday Reading!
The Great Gatsby
As I Lay Dying
The Catcher in the Rye
A Moveable Feast
Their Eyes Were Watching God
One-Hundred Years of Solitude
The Old Man and the Sea
Grapes of Wrath