WHY do we read books? Harper Lee believed that reading was an existential matter, as important to life as breathing. Emily Dickinson claimed books were like vessels to far-off lands. Gustave Flaubert wrote that the only way to tolerate existence was to lose oneself in literature “as in a perpetual orgy”. Whatever one’s reasons for reading, scientists believe that such physical metaphors have a basis in reality: reading is an embodied experience. Words on a page activate sensory neurons in the brain in a way that mirrors what would happen if you were to perform them. The phenomenon is called “grounded cognition”: you don’t just read a book—you touch, taste and smell it.
By offering different characters’ viewpoints, stories encourage us to empathise. Studies show that this is particularly true of literary fiction, with its focus on relationships and character development. The psychological awareness that we are endowed with after reading a work of fiction can last for several days. Books filled with stock…Continue reading
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