“We read books to find out who we are.”

Early in a 2012 Talk titled “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”, delivered for The Reading Agency, the fiction writer Neil Gaiman speaks of being in New York and listening “to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”

One of the reasons to read, and cultivate a love for reading, Neil points out, is that reading fosters empathy.

“When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”

One of the gems in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Shadow of the Wind”: “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have in you.”

The wise Ursula Le Guinn explains in “The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction”: “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel — or have done and thought and felt; or might do and think and feel — is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.

Peace 😊

“Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”

In the 1836 story “The Nose”, by Nikolai Gogol (translated by Claud Field) we read of Kovalyov, a civil servant, waking up “fairly early” one morning, gazing at a mirror “to look at the heat-boil which had appeared on his nose the previous evening” — and “to his great astonishment” seeing “that instead of his nose he had a perfectly smooth vacancy in his face.”

“Thoroughly alarmed, he ordered some water to be brought, and rubbed his eyes with a towel. Sure enough, he had no longer a nose! Then he sprang out of bed, and shook himself violently ! No, no nose any more ! He dressed himself and went at once to the police superintendent.”

Apart from the entertainment, what does fiction, like Gogol’s do?

In a December 2008 essay titled “Changing our Minds”, Keith Oatley, Emeritus Professor at the University of Toronto writes that “Fiction is about possible selves in possible worlds.”

He goes on: “In terms of 21st-century psychology, we might best see fiction as a kind of simulation: one that runs not on computers, but on minds.”

Reading fiction, Keith tells us, “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

In “The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction“,Neil Gaiman tells us that reading fiction is a way “to build empathy.”

He writes that “Fiction,” being “the lie that tells the truth” “gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”

Peace 😊