In the recent NY Times Article, Your Brain on Fiction, author Annie Murphy Paul puts neuroscience behind something that teachers and librarians already know: that reading fiction stimulates the brain and makes you a more well rounded and just plain better human.
“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life…Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”
Studies on the effects of identifying with characters in a novel suggest that fiction not only enriches our lives, it makes us more effective social beings as well.
“…we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers….individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”
Aren’t we constantly looking for books to read to our students that illustrate some concept we want them to understand, from values and history to mathematical concepts? As readers too, we instinctively understand that the novels we have read are part of us; part of our life experience.