Let’s talk about Iceland. It’s one of the safest countries in the world: murder and violent crime are almost non-existent, though gun ownership is common. It’s also one of the most literate, with 99% of its adult population fluent in reading and writing. By comparison, the literacy rate in the United States is 86%. Issues like crime and education are complicated, but I can’t help believing there’s a connection.
I was recently selling books with several other authors at a holiday gift show. I asked a passing woman if she liked to read and she made a dismissive gesture at our display and said, “Oh, I don’t read those kinds of books.”
“Those kinds of books” included mysteries, thrillers, clean romance, historical fiction, and inspirational Christmas stories. I asked her what she did like to read, and she said, “Just my scriptures.”
Okay, that’s fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into anti-fiction snobbery, and when I was in grad school, I didn’t have much time for fiction either. There are millions of books out there, and we’ll only have time to read, what, maybe a couple of thousand in our lifetimes? (Isn’t that a sad thought?)
Yet numerous studies have shown the benefits of reading fiction. It offers us a mental vacation and emotional refreshment. In the case of historical fiction, it teaches us about different times, places, and events in a way we’re more likely to remember because we’ve experienced them vicariously.
Perhaps most importantly, study after study has shown that people who read fiction are more likely to feel empathy – to relate to those who are different from them. It’s the closest we’ll ever come to seeing through the eyes of another. We can learn from their mistakes and triumphs and sample a taste of their perspective. The best fiction is a cure for unawareness and isolation. It combats feelings of being overhwelmed, hopeless, or alone. It connects human beings across time and space. It’s magic.
In lieu of brushing up on my Old Norse and searching for real estate in Iceland, I’m going to participate in their tradition of Jolabokaflod – a Christmas Book Flood. I’m joining with other authors to do a holiday book giveaway (more details coming here and on my Facebook page), and I’ll also be giving away an ebook through my newsletter (sign up at: http://eepurl.com/bqCKTr ).
I hope, whether it’s my book or someone else’s, you have time to curl up with a good novel this December, and do it without feeling guilty, knowing that reading is good for your brain and your heart!