Step away from the news: reading fiction fuels creativity

Last week, on a plane to Long Beach, California, JetBlue Airways stuck me in a middle seat between two professional-looking gentlemen.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

After takeoff, I pulled out a book and tried to begin reading. But the intensity with which both gentlemen scrutinized their seat-back televisions immediately distracted me.

Leaning forward with nearly unblinking eyes, Tweedledee and Tweedledum  were happily enslaved by the news.

Now, watching these two Type-A shmucks engrossed in re-tellings of rape, murder, dirty money and dirtier politicians inspired something dangerous.

We need fiction.

We need fiction to relax. We need it to escape.

We need fiction to finally castrate our jack-ass boss and bring our favorite television characters together when it would never happen on the show.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

We need things that haven’t happened to explain what’s happening now.

A 2013 study published in The New York Times said reading literary fiction immediately improved the reader’s ability to empathize or understand the situations of others.

The study showed reading fiction improved the “Theory of Mind,” concluding that fiction improved compassion and bettered understanding of social relationships.

Similarly, a 2010 study concluded that literary fiction helped children develop their understanding of life and

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

relationships with others. Authors of a 2009 study found that reading fiction improved understanding of unfamiliar situations.

However, both studies said nonfiction, such as news stories, led readers to loneliness. Instead of making them more sympathetic, nonfiction made readers pessimistic.

In both studies, people who read fiction were more empathetic and understanding than people who watched fictional television and/or movies.

In a 2013 publication from Creativity Research Journal, researchers said that reading fictional short stories, compared to reading non-fiction essays, gave readers a stronger sense of closure. It said that fiction readers were more comfortable with chaos and uncertainty.

The studies referenced above concluded that reading fiction improved imagination, and helped explain to readers why life works the way it does.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

So, whether you’re looking for answers or trying to escape from reality for a little while—read fiction.

Short stories, novels and poetry introduce new ideas to the reader. Reading fiction requires using imagination to understand what can’t be explained in the confines of reality.

I’d like to see Katie Couric explain paralyzing grief like Lord Byron did in “Darkness.”  Something tells me her words wouldn’t be anywhere near comparable.

If you bleed for Fox News or stand in the midnight line for the newest Associated Press stylebook, step away from the nonfiction.

Pickup Game of Thrones or re-read Harry Potter for the seventh time. Invest in poetry, or spend time with a short story.

Fiction fuels imagination. Don’t ever extinguish that fire.

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