Does Reading Fiction Make You Nicer?

June 21, 2013

I have often thought that people who read fiction have a deeper understanding of human nature. I’m not talking about the shoot ’em up stories that are one-dimensional, or even the cowboy and Indian stories that are stereotypical. I’m talking about the kind of stories that are written by authors who are the observers of life rather than being the participants of life.

The ones who observe life have the edge, especially with regard to their ability to probe the human psyche in a book. They can take apart a person’s thought processes, examine their thinking style, and come up with dialogues that imitate life.

These are the kinds of writers who have the ability to tug at your emotions and make you examine your life. They make you also examine your relationships, your behaviors, your motives, and your goals.

In short, their books make you take a long, hard look at yourself and this allows you to make the adjustments to your behavior and to your life, in the privacy of your mind, before you put it on display to the world.

We’re not talking about reading one or two books. Anyone can do that as an experiment and come to the conclusion that they aren’t any nicer or more observant of human nature than they were before.

I don’t know if we can quantify the number of people whose social behaviors have been changed by the kind of books they read but I’m pretty sure we can do that with the kind of movies they watch and the kind of video games they play.

There have been more people whose violence has been attributed to the violent movies they have watched and to the violent video games they have played than has ever been attrituted to the fictional books they have read.

It’s difficult to imagine a different ending to a movie you are watching but it’s very easy to imagine a different ending to a book you are reading.

I remember once reading a book and when I got to the end of it, the author didn’t give an ending. Instead, he asked the reader to put his own ending to the book. I don’t know if his other readers did that but I enjoyed the process. I had my characters live happily ever after and then I typed: The End.

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