Upon learning I’m a novelist, many brethren (opposite of sisters) tell me they don’t have time to read, especially fiction. My brother-in-love, bless his heart, wants to write “real books.” My friend Torry Martin, who works for Adventures in Odyssey, doesn’t have time to read fiction.
Hey, my grands listen to Adventures in Odyssey. I’ve listened to the books on tape when traveling with them. Okay, okay, that’s not reading. But, it is fiction. It is story. And, we get totally immersed in them.
So, this brings up a question. Is fiction reading something only for women and children?
Not according to the Art of Manliness.
“Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show men might be short-shifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library. Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in a while and pick up a copy of Hemingway.”
Scientists have discovered fiction stimulates and improves the functions that allow us to survive in society. Unfortunately, men received the short end of the stick when it comes to the ability to socialize.
“Most of your success as a man,” says Dr. Keith Oatley, “whether in love or work, depends on your ability to socialize adroitly. We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Success depends not on what you know, but who you know.’ As much as you’d like to think that’s not true, it is. You can be the most skilled and talented whatever in the world, but you’ll likely labor away in obscurity if you don’t know how to reach out and share those talents with others.”
The brains of boys and girls are the same in the womb, but a male brain changes at birth. (I learned this from Dr. Gary Smalley. Didn’t everyone?) In order to deal properly in our world, and in our respective roles, most male brains are good at dealing with stuff, while female brains are typically better at dealing with people.
While this might explain why women often prefer fiction over non-fiction, men probably have the most to gain from reading fiction.
Instead of seeing fiction as a bunch of made-up, waste-of-time baloney, looking at it as a simulator allows both men and women to exercise and strengthen the ability to socialize. Men, every time you pick up and read a novel, you’re molding yourself into a better, more socially adept man.
Mystery novels particularly exercise the mind. Whenever you read a Dashiell Hammett novel, you’re guessing right along with Sam Spade about what the subtle gestures or the words really mean. Is the suspect or witness just saying something to throw you and Spade off the trail? Reading fiction is wrestling with reading the minds of the characters and taxing and fun at the same time. Literary critic, Lisa Zunshine, says the mental workout you get from reading a detective story does for the brain what lifting weights at the gym will do for your physical body.
When asked if there is a special type of fiction that men should read, Dr. Oatley’s response was to read whatever interests you. The result is the same when reading highbrow Russian novels or lowbrow dime paperbacks.
“Our studies show that the effect fiction has on the mind is independent of literary quality,” says Dr. Oatley.
He recommends reading a wide variety of fiction, which allows us to get to know more people in more circumstances.
“Read those Louis L’Amour and Michael Crichton novels without any guilt. You’re helping yourself become a charismatic social-dynamo.”
So, men (or women :)), what novels have you read lately?