A little back story, when I applied to do my Masters of Information Science, I pulled the classic quote-a-book on the application move. Since I was applying for library school, I strategically chose a bookish quote from one of my favourite fiction authors, JD Salinger's Catcher In The Rye:
"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific
friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."
Suffice to say I got into the program. But the real reason I take you on this trip down memory lane is to discuss fiction therapy – something the vast majority of readers engage in without even realizing it! A recent Star article shed light on the health benefits of reading, proven to foster empathy, make us live longer and reduce stress. Now I know what you're thinking, of course the librarian says there are health benefits to reading fiction, but where is the proof? Don't just take my word for it, there has been a ton of research on Fiction Therapy of late.
So let's break this down into manageable sessions:
Session 1 – Reduce Stress
The first benefit of reading fiction is probably the most evident; when you read fiction, you focus on something other than your day-to-day life and thus give yourself a break from any worries or stress. In fact, recent studies have shown that reading a book can be more effective at reducing blood pressure than going for a walk or stroking a dog; sorry Lennon, these hands were made for reading!
As little as six minutes of reading can be enough to reduce your stress levels by two-thirds, according to a University of Sussex study. Basically, since your mind has to work to imagine another world complete with interesting characters and developing plots, it leaves little room for your worries to creep in.
Of course this isn't always the case. I'm sure more than a few of us have suffered from distracted reading, where our mind wanders and we end up rereading pages (similar to the meditation track at the end of my yoga practice sometimes...)
If you are looking to boost your fiction therapy and combat those winter blues, try reading under the library's new Light Therapy Lamps!
Session 2 – New Perspectives
One of my favourite things about reading fiction, especially first person narrative, is that you can become completely immersed in another person's consciousness. According to Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, author of The Novel Cure, fiction is the ultimate cure because it gives readers a transformational experience. Transported by the story, we see through other eyes, feel another set of feelings and experience different lives than our own and therein lies another health benefit, according to The Guardian. In fact, brain scans in the Annual Review of Psychology study showed that when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. Relaxation and new perspectives, I'll take a double dose!
Here are just a few of my favourite narrations that gave me a new perspective:
Interestingly, and more radically, some researchers believe that through engaging in fiction therapy, we may also discover that a book shadows aspects of ourselves that we failed to acknowledge or recognize.
Session 3 – Companionship
In our contemporary, mobile-friendly world, social isolation is a real dilemma for a number of us. Luckily, we have to look no further than your local library to find shelves upon shelves of potential new friends (and friendly staff). According to researchers, fiction can break down barriers of social isolation and produce a sense of belonging in the same way friendship does. Fiction books also "give us a chance to rehearse for interactions with others in the world, without doing any lasting damage" according to The New Yorker article, Can Reading Make You Happier?
Looking to enrich your fictional companions? Join one of the library's Book Clubs and engage with other fiction lovers. There are a number of different formats including family book clubs, cookbook clubs, nonfiction book clubs, feminist book clubs and book clubs in other languages! Looking for less commitment? Drop-in to one of our Tea & Books or Coffee & Books sessions and just listen to librarians gush about their favourite reads.
Warning: Side effects
Indulging in fiction therapy can be a beneficial health choice, however similar to other types of therapy or medication, there are potential side effects. Namely the dreaded book hangover. According to the hilarious people at epicreads.com, a book hangover is a condition in which attachment to a book or series that has ended causes the reader traumatic emotional distress; it usually lasts for one to two weeks, or until a new book of higher-than-average quality enters the reader's life. For more information, please consult the following video:
Lastly, if you are looking for fiction book recommendations, I highly suggest utilizing the library's Novelist subscription. Through Novelist, you can search for books by genre, subject matter and various appeal factors like pacing or tone. You can even find read-alikes for some of your favourite fiction books, so you can remedy that book hangover; it really is an amazing resource.