The hidden power of the ‘bookworm’

Reading fiction has some surprising mental health benefits, from increasing empathy to improving critical thinking and creativity skills. Illustration by Connor Rickermann/The Daily Campus.

Writing has been a part of our world for centuries. Along with paintings, writing allows us to assemble a picture of what life was like before, before films, before the internet. Novels can often weave rhetorics into their works and wage wars on problems in the real world. But recently, writing has become something else; it has woven into the fabric of our culture. “Harry Potter” phases and “Twilight” phases join the ranks of teen obsessions that morph into personality traits. Writing, specifically fiction, has become an integral part of our culture; but, fiction gives us so much more than just something to ‘pine for’ in our teenage years.  

Fiction can offer us a portal to a different world, a possible world. Reading stories of landing on Mars and creating robots inspire us to make those stories into reality. For example, The Martian set off a flurry of excitement in this era of renewed space exploration. The possibility behind the words spurred real scientists, and that is a miraculous thing. Even when the worlds within words are unrealistic, their presence gives us access to something we could never actually see, which is a powerful thing. Yes, absorbing yourself too deeply into these false worlds can be dangerous. Still, if we walk the line between daydreaming and avoidance carefully, we can adequately harness fiction’s teleportation power.  

Fiction has even more potential than providing us a vehicle to travel to new worlds. In a world of online school and unknown futures, stress has become almost a regular part of our life. So much so, we have found out that this persistent stress is not natural. A couple of minutes of silent reading can help us considerably reduce this stress, a fact researchers at the University of Sussex demonstrated through a 2009 study. Stress, and sometimes technology, can also keep us up at night. And unsurprisingly, reading can help with that as well. The same University of Sussex study explained that reading could help combat insomnia and put us into our dreamland even before we close our eyes, which, in turn, enables us to sleep better. That is if you remember to put the book down, which in many cases can be very difficult.  

As we delve deeper, however, we also see the effect fiction has on the psyche. Reading nonfiction is helpful as the pages are packed with facts, but reading fiction also has a positive effect on our mind, specifically our “theory of mind”the ability to construct a map of other people’s intentions. In a study done by York University, two scientists found that people who read fiction can better understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. Those who read fiction were able to amass skills vital to increasing emotional intelligence. Strangely, this contradicts the stigma surrounding the ‘bookworm;’ many assume that those who often have their nose in a book are recluses; this study contradicts this belief as these individuals are accumulating social skills. In an article by the Harvard Business Review, the author agrees that reading fiction betters one’s EQ; even further, she suggests that sometimes the ideal employees are also avid readers. Though reading fiction does not guarantee an employee will become adept in all aspects of social skills, inserting literature studies, or book clubs, into offices would increase empathy, critical thinking and creativity skills. Your parent’s book club may not seem like the most enjoyable place, but maybe you should give it a chance. Who knows, perhaps it will lead to you landing the job of your dreams.  

When we realize that the werewolf’s blood doesn’t run in our blood or don’t get a letter to Hogwarts at 11, there is disappointment. Still, all the things one gains from reading severely outweigh this brief disappointment in our reality. Fiction opens our minds to new worlds and new thoughts. Fiction helps us gain experiences that we could obtain nowhere else for; indeed, fiction’s power is undeniable.  

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