The Benefits of Reading Fiction

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Reading fiction has surprising benefits. We get entertained, identify with characters and experience empathy. We follow characters’ paths through trials and difficulties we sometimes haven’t encountered ourselves.

Watching characters go through their daily lives, readers may come to understand that they aren’t alone with their problems. Everyone has difficulties, whether with parents, siblings, friends, or bosses. Stories often help us realize there are alternatives to what characters experience and  alternatives for us as well. Visualization in problem solving trains our minds and enhances our imaginations (Brain Connectivity, Emory University).

Identifying with characters we read about helps us understand that we’re not alone in our lives.  Pretty much all stages of life appear in fiction: aging and its problems, the quarrels and betrayals of youth, lovers’ crises like jealousy, break-ups, divorce, grief, illness, even loneliness.

There is no better feeling than sitting in a chair by a window or in front of the fireplace reading a book. The time is ours alone. If nothing else, reading makes us comfortable with being alone and that in itself is a valuable life lesson.


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I’ve been thinking about metaphor. But to talk about it, I have to at least mention simile. As I understand it, a simile is simply a comparison: something is like something else. And usually, at least in literature, similes are used to link something concrete to something abstract, like a feeling or an idea. Although there’s a big difference between a rose and a feeling, a simile can suggest what the feeling is like by comparing it with the rose. For example: My love is like a red, red rose. Something of how we respond to roses, their beauty, their colour, gets linked to a feeling: love. And in that comparison we pass meaning to someone else, however fuzzy the translation may be.

Metaphor is different. It doesn’t develop a comparison, it establishes an identity. One thing is another thing. Consider what happens if I change the line we’re using to the following: My love is a red, red rose. The sentence says that the rose is his love, it’s identified with it. And that’s a different thing altogether. A simile, based in comparison, is logical enough for us. A metaphor, on the other hand, requires more since it makes the abstraction and the object a single reality. It’s not an objective correlative, an object used to suggest a feeling. It’s a fusion of the two.

Metaphor is more than simile because

Literature and Identity

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Reading fiction provides a foundation that initiates in us greater awareness of ourselves and of our culture; that helps to liberate us from provincialism;  that provides the potential for personal growth that leads to identity.

We learn through familiarity, through repeated exposure, and it’s important to expose ourselves to the best that has been thought and said. Such exposure fosters open-mindedness and a respect for the integrity of systems of thought. Exposure to literature helps alleviate our own moral ambiguity by developing in us a disinclination to accept a relativism which tends to ignore moral issues.

If we learn by example, by repeated exposure, are not literary works the best teachers for us?