Why read fiction?

Many of us have different ways of learning about life and the world.  Some people particularly like to share experiences with friends; others have favourite TV programs to watch; and still others like nothing better than to read a particular magazine or newspaper.  Perhaps there are people who have a preference for a special radio station or program.  And, I’m sure you can think of other preferences.

How about books as a means of learning about life and the world?  Hmm.  Well, I’m sure there are people who would say ‘books are passe – they are obsolete’.  Are the social media (like Facebook and Twitter) making books a thing of the past?  Are the sales of books, including e-books, declining?  An article by Julie Bosman published in the New York Times last summer revealed that publishers sold 2.57 billion books, in all formats, in 2010.  This represented an  increase of 4.1% over 2008.  Not only did the volume of books increase over those two years, but industry revenues increased by 5.6% to $27.9 billion.  Interestingly, the growth of e-books was very significant: e-books represented 0.6% of the market in 2008, but they represented 6.4% in 2010.  Their market share will almost certainly increase again in 2012.

As an aside, I should point out that Sin & Contrition is available in various e-book formats (including Kindle).  Fishing in Foreign Seas is currently available in hard copy only, but I am considering making it available as an e-book.  Comments?

So, it is fair to say that books are not obsolete or dying out.  In his article “Is Fiction Relevant to the Real World?”, Sydney M Williams says: “There are people who never read anything but fiction. Nevertheless, it has always seemed to me that the addition of some history and biography helps broaden the mind. However, much of history written today has the purpose of furthering a particular political agenda. . . . In contrast, with fiction there is no hidden agenda. Its purpose is to entertain, but with the added value of providing insight to a complex and ever-changing world, and to the people who inhabit it. Novelists come with political agendas, but we know upfront what they write is fiction.”  He also says: “Novels have long been lauded as a form of entertainment that activate the brain, provide insight into character and present a version of events that we know to be fictional, yet are based on human emotions and reactions we know to be real.”

In her article “Your Brain on Fiction”, Anne Murphy Paul says: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” 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.”

The opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings is, in my opinion, an opportunity not to be missed!

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