Reading fiction makes us better at understanding life and social interaction. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Emeritus professor at Toronto University Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist and novelist, discussed his research. He described reading novels (or short stories or watching films) as akin to a flight simulator.
Of course it makes intuitive sense and proponents of NLP and other self-improvement techniques remind us that the inner self cannot distinguish between reality and that which is deeply imagined. By reading widely, we assimilate a wider range of experience, broadening and deepening our understanding.
The quality of writing is important, for a more realistic and impactful experience in the flight simulator, but there is often too much snobbery in fiction. Shakespeare is incomparable but there are insights aplenty in popular, contemporary fiction like that of Iain Banks or Stephen King.