Fairy tales, sci-fi, fantasy, even historical fiction get a bad rap. Why read something that is made up when there are plenty of nonfiction books full of truths and facts? For instance, those who hire a content writer want honest, straightforward information—no lies from loose lips. Yet if you have ever cried while reading a fictional novel, you can attest to the emotional power of a delightful work of literature. However, scientific research to support Team Fiction against Team Nonfiction has been very limited—until now.
Everybody has an opinion here. A recent debate in The New York Times, The Atlantic and Time plows through every theory related to the importance, or lack thereof, of reading fictional literature. Some swear that reading fiction can make us better people, which is why you should put considerable effort into reading those books piled on your bedside table.
In an article in Time, “Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer” by Annie Murphy Paul, the argument supports reading deeply, which involves revolutionary works of literature. Paul states that reading such heavy tomes as Great Expectations, East of Eden, and The Handmaid’s Tale require the brain to kick it into overdrive. Forging through with focused concentration, along with the super rich writing of literary giants, is thought to make us smarter and more understanding of others.
Paul backs her theory with facts by York University psychologist Raymond Mar and University of Toronto professor emeritus of cognitive psychology Keith Oatley. These men published findings stating fiction readers are more empathetic as they are more equipped to view the world through others’ eyes.
Notice: Great Fiction is Required
Now we aren’t talking about the latest chic-lit or paranormal romance here. If you want to reap the rewards of reading fiction you are going to have to read something with substance. You know, those meaty books with paragraphs you may have to read twice to fully get their meaning. Not that you will have to limit your reading to 100-year-old British works or those written in Ancient Greece. Here are some highlights from modern day fiction that can get your brain bubbling with empathetic thoughts.
- The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak is a young adult novel that examines life for Germans during Nazi Germany; it also illustrates the difficult task that Death has taken on.
- 11/22/1963 by Stephen King is not a horror novel, shockingly, but a time travel tale that is set in 1963 and narrated by a Lee Harvey Oswald stalker who plans to change history by thwarting the assassination of JFK.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another young adult novel, this one with a dystopian theme, which reminds readers of the controversial short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson in which children are sacrificed in order to maintain social order.
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver addresses how cultural norms including religion are dependent on one’s basic needs of survival, as well as their physical and social environment.
I’m sure you have your own picks of the Greatest Literature in History. Please share these with the rest of us in the comments below. And if you are still in doubt, American author Joyce Carol Oates said it best: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
Miranda B is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.