Does reading literature make us nicer people?

Book QuestionsWith the appreciation of literature at an all time high right now with the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop currently in full swing, I thought it worth considering more deeply

(1) what attracts me to literary works in the first instance, and then

(2) what I get from reading literature.

What attracts me to literary titles?

Firstly, I am a very curious person.

Polite people call that ‘an enquiring mind’; not so polite, ‘a nosy-parker’ or ‘stickybeak’. Suffice to say, as a child I said ‘But why?’ a lot…

Secondly, I like to challenge myself.

I love solving puzzles. It’s the act of figuring something out that I enjoy, not the end result. If something is easy I will rarely devote too much time to it.

Thirdly, I admire the mastery of language.

I grew up hearing multiple languages spoken and consider communication an art form. I enjoy learning languages, and it’s worth noting I consider music and mathematics languages too.

What do I get from reading literature?

To fully appreciate the merits of literature one must immerse oneself into the reading experience – read more slowly and more deeply. Why? Because what I define as literature is a title that really makes you think; one that encourages you to see things from a different perspective and/or reflect on ‘the why’s’ of the world.

For me, the focus required provides a mental time out from the minutiae of everyday concerns and hence is a form of relaxation. At the same time I find being challenged to consider things from different perspectives stimulating. For this reason I consider this type of relaxation also a valuable use of my precious spare time.

A recent Time article ‘Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer‘ explores this theme. While I don’t necessarily think the article’s rather definitive (casual) title can be proven, I do find the following excerpt compelling:

That immersion (in the narrative) is supported by the way the brain handles language rich in detail, allusion and metaphor: by creating a mental representation that draws on the same brain regions that would be active if the scene were unfolding in real life. The emotional situations and moral dilemmas that are the stuff of literature are also vigorous exercise for the brain, propelling us inside the heads of fictional characters and even, studies suggest, increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.

What do you think – can reading literature make us nicer people?

I think the broadening of minds can only be a good thing.

What else do I get from reading literature? An opportunity to admire masters of language and expand my own vocabulary while doing so.

I think the mastery of language should be held in much higher regard than it is in society these days… What can be more important than the ability to clearly express ones thoughts and feelings?

What attracts you to literary titles?

Looking for your next great literary read? Check out the literature I have recently reviewed.

Comments

  1. says

    I think reading makes us more aware of the world around us and more able to see things from a different perspective. It allows us a window into the lives of those who are different from us, less fortunate than us or view the world in a different way. This I believe, leads to a person being more tolerant of differences and more able to consider the plight of others. A person who reads is more likely to understand why someone would risk their life by getting in a leaky boat and heading for Australia (a hot topic here atm) or the joy of reaching what was thought to be an impossible goal. Reading allows us to dream, not only for ourselves but for others around us. I think it makes us less selfish and more compassionate. Yes, I think it makes us nicer.

  2. says

    I’m not sure about nicer per se, more what you’ve said, it broadens our minds. Maybe if we come to understand certain situations because of books we’ll become more empathic. I hadn’t really thought of reading as a valuable use of time in the way you discuss, more a good use of time due to the general learning, but you do indeed learn different perspectives which can be helpful in real life. So yes, nicer perhaps, but it’s not as straight forward as that.

    • says

      Yes Charlie, I think reading offers the opportunity to broaden our minds, but you’ve got to have the want there in the first place in order for that to happen.

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