- It’s a way of thinking. Fiction lets us think through our values and beliefs in a kind of reality simulator. “What would I do in this situation? Why? And what about this?” It gives us alternative ways of thinking, thoughts we cannot think on our own because we are only ever ourselves.
- It’s the closest we can come to experiencing what it’s like to be in a head that is not our own. This is true of visual art, too, and is linked to the point above. Reading literally makes us feel less alone, because we have access to someone else’s thought; not direct, unmediated access, of course, that would be impossible (and unbearable), but it’s close.
- It breeds empathy. It’s a truism by now that readers are more empathetic than non-readers. Reading forces us to acknowledge not only other viewpoints but the validity of those viewpoints: we may not agree with them, but we can understand why someone holds them.
- It allows us to imagine new possibilities. Looking outward, fiction (and, to a lesser extent, non-fiction) lets us imagine new paradigms for living – new societies, new relationships, new governments. Every story we read remakes our personal universe.
- It is safe. On a personal note, books give me a place to hide when I need it. The right book is not only a refuge from tiredness and emotion and political nastiness, it’s also a way of dealing with those things after I’ve closed it. Books are often where I go to refuel and recharge and remind myself why I’m me.
- It forms communities. Bookish communities are often the strongest communities; the conversations I have about books are often the conversations I value the most, the ones that form friendships of real strength. I think that’s because our enjoyment of specific books is so very personal; you can get a good handle on someone by knowing how they think about books, and what they like to read.
- It allows us to travel in space and time. Reading lets us visit places we could never see in real life: Victorian London, the surface of an alien planet, a castle of impossible architecture, the lightless depths of space.
- You can do it anywhere! Books are eminently portable and they don’t require any power. Reading is the perfect way of filling up an unexpected gap in your day.
- It’s educational. I know that this is kind of obvious, but worth repeating in this internet age: books – fiction and non-fiction – are packed with fascinating information – all the knowledge of the centuries.
- It gives us a link to our past. How’s this for a thought – we can access the thoughts of those who are dead by reading. We can see how our sociocultural narratives have shifted. We can appreciate just how different our ancestors were – and how similar they were in other ways.
(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)