“The author and the reader ‘know’ each other; they meet on a bridge of words”: Madeleine L’Engle.
I am not a Writer. But I am a passionate reader, and I deeply enjoy meeting on that bridge. So, let me offer some thoughts on that topic for my first Writers’ Block blog.
Why Read? The first of many thoughts and impressions.
I love to read. No, let me rephrase that. I live to read. It was my first joy as a child and, perhaps, when old age has taken its’ toll, it may well be my last. I cling to that idea: reading will be my lifelong companion. Why do I read? To escape, to imagine, to wonder and to wander. To suspend my reality and to become immersed in characters and plot lines. To connect with humanity on some sort of a grander scale and to feel the full range of human emotion, from suffering to joy, and to be enriched and enlightened by these experiences. Those are my reasons for reading. Do you need a reason to get started on this most wonderful and lifelong habit? Read on…..
We all know the feeling of becoming engrossed and captivated by a novel; when we care only for the fictional characters and plot we are following. Well, this not only offers welcome escapism for our busy lives, but it is proven to make us more aware and empathic as people. Recent research by Keith Oatley, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, has shown that reading fiction really is good for you. In his book Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, Oatley successfully argues that reading fiction enables us to understand ourselves, and others, better. This finding has now been replicated by other researchers in the USA and Europe. His claim is that fiction, like other art forms, allows us to experience emotions in new contexts, and thus learn more about these emotions and ourselves. As we identify with literary characters, we can come to understand them not just from the outside but from the inside, and to live in their imagination not just one life, but many. We add these “fictional” experiences to our minds, and depending on how a story moves us, Oatley demonstrates how artistic literature can shape our personalities. Furthermore, following a character closely triggers “mirror neurons” so we store information about how characters communicate and respond to others and then simulate this when we go through a similar experience ourselves. As we expand our understanding through fiction, we become better equipped to understand real people and their situations. When we read we find pleasure and enjoyment and it makes us better human beings. This sounds like a win/win to me.