Sunday, January 3, 2016
What We Gain From Reading Fiction
As the New Year begins I want to focus on an emphasis on reading. This week I wish to consider the importance of what we gain from reading works of fiction. Recently I was reading a book I found at a used bookstore, Storytelling: The Art and The Purpose by Laura S. Emerson published back in 1959. Her thoughts on storytelling made me think of how fiction writers know the art of storytelling. They write the kind of books that you don’t want to put down as their stories capture the mind and spirit inside us as we read.
In one of the chapters she focused on the purpose of storytelling and the importance of it. I will apply some of her thoughts on storytelling, over to the importance of reading fiction. She explains why stories relate to us, “Since we are creatures of emotion, intellect, and will or personality, we tell stories that will appeal to, satisfy and influence those three characteristics.” (p.25). Fiction novels tap into those aspects of our being. Through reading we can grow in a positive manner in our emotion, intellect and our overall well-being.
Reading adds personal enjoyment to life. I know for myself as a Bookhead, reading is one of my favorite personal pastimes. To this point Emerson points to children. “Stories give pleasure. ‘A good story,’ Dr. Henry Van Dyke, ‘ is it’s own excuse for being.’ The child who begs, ‘Tell me another story.’ Reveals that the story has made him happy and has satisfied his emotional hunger… A good story feeds the life of the spirit often emaciated by materialistic influences. All great art appeals to the spirit. G. Stanley Hall, the great educator wrote,’ Stories are the natural soul-food of children, their native air and vital breath.” (p.25). I would say books are soul-food for children of all ages.
Her pointing to children remind me of times growing up when during the Summer reading programs there would be times of being involved in group reading times. For me there was an emotional enjoyment of hearing a story read. That is why as I have mentioned prior, that it is important for parents to encourage book reading by verbally reading to their children. In reading books to them and by the children seeing parents read that encourages a viewpoint that reading is an enjoyable pastime instead of something just required for school work. I sadly see in counseling sessions, where parents unaware are using reading as a form of punishment. Parents tell me; they will take the video game away and “make the child read”. That is counterproductive to show that reading can be an enjoyable activity.
Emerson brings out in her thoughts how Fiction stories can help improve the imagination in children and I would argue keeps the imagination growing in our adult years. Reading and storytelling is a powerful means in improving the imagination. Through the story the world of make believe can aid in building the creativity of a young person. I remember an older student in one of my classes who told me after we discussed the importance of reading how she and her husband, an artist, and she purposely limited their children’s television and video game time to encourage reading and hands on art. They wanted to strengthen their imagination. This reminds me as well in Dr. Ben Carson’s story of his life, Gifted Hands, he shares how reading helped build his imagination which aided him in coming up with solutions to problems when he was older as a neurosurgeon.
Emerson also points to how fictional stories build our intellect and understanding of life truths. She quotes Friedrich Froebel, “The telling of stories refreshes the mind as a bath refreshes the body; it gives exercise to the intellect and its powers; it tests the judgment of the feelings.” (p. 27). Keeping our mental powers strong and growing can be helped through reading of fiction and learning from biographies of people which is learning from other’s life stories.
Another important thought is how reading of good fiction can have an effect on our growing in our ethics and personal growth of how we choose to live our lives. She mentions a thought from John Wesley, “We are what we read” (p. 29). She then explains how the early McGuffy readers used in early schools used stories to teach young students moral truths for living. A quote from Socrates again shows the importance for parents to be involved in what young people read, “ shall we carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons to receive into their minds for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up.” What we read can have an effect for the positive or negative on children and even when we are older, so we need to use discernment in what we read.
Two other points I felt that were important in relation to reading fiction stories that stood out to my mind in reading Emerson’s book is stories can have a relaxing effect on a person. This is so true and one reason I enjoy reading. When I am stressed a reading session of a book I am interested in is a wonderful way to reduce stress. Even though it allows for relaxation, at the same time, reading builds up the powers of the mind’s concentration. Through learning new words, visualizing the story, and understanding the author’s ideas the brain is being built up stronger. As a reader we benefit from this in keeping our minds active.
Reflection: What is one of your favorite works of fiction? How does reading refresh you? What is your favorite reason for reading?