The Fact of Fiction

Haley Smith | Jun 27, 2012

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. Oscar Wilde

It seems like from the time we are born our minds are grasping for something to dream about, something to mirror and follow.

We end our nights with stories about moons, runaway bunnies and cats with hats. These stories become part of our realities. Their images are cemented in our minds as we move on to dream about what our lives might look like in the future. Authors like Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll have forever changed our modern perspective of reality. They can give us hope in situations and characters to regard, respect and even emulate.

More importantly, stories help us learn at a young age to enjoy what we read. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores.

A study done at Berkeley found that fiction at its best isnt just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves. This same study found that people who read fiction are not only able to have a higher sense of empathy but they also scored higher on two tests measuring perception, that are associated with increased social ability.

Another study done by Dr. Raymond Mar (York University in Canada) and Dr. Keith Oatley (University of Toronto) reported that as the number of stories read to preschool-age children increases, so does their theory of mind or the ability to mentally map peoples intentions.

Fiction reading becomes like a simulation game for us. Dr. Oatley notes, negotiating the social world effectively is extremely trickyso novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life. It then seems reasonable to assume that reading fiction, especially from a young age, can advance your perceptions and interactions with the world around you.

The startling reality is that once a student leaves school it is unlikely that they will continue to read books for leisure. In fact the Jenkins Group did a survey that found that 42% of college graduates will never read another book.

Interestingly in the past year there has been a rise in fiction reading amongst 18-24 year olds due to the recent surge in young adult fiction. Some may sneer at this, but stories like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight are providing gateways to keep students interested in reading. Although they encourage a commercial cult following they still intrinsically hold the values of a meaningful story.

These kinds of stories stick.

What kind of stories are you and your family reading this summer?


Practical Steps:

  1. Reading together at bedtime doesnt have to go away with early childhood. If your kids are preteens or teenagers, consider finding a good book or series to read aloud together a couple of nights a week. You might have to work to come up with something, but it could be a great time to explore some fiction classics or new arrivals together.
  2. Get a library card! This is a cost free activity for every family member. Your kids will gain a wider exposure to books, and going to the library together can be a connection point.
  3. Start reading more yourself! If your kids see you reading they are more likely to find the value in it as well. You might also find open door for conversation about why youre taking a break from electronic media to read an actual book.

Haley Smith

Haley Smith is a first year student at Fuller Seminary from Dallas, Texas working to earn her Masters in Theology and Ministry. She graduated from Baylor University with a BA in Journalism and has worked the past four years in fundraising for ministries and social justice organizations. Haley is one of our incredible FYI interns.


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