Friday, 11 July 2008

Fiction--Real or Unintended--Can Make Your Life Better: Tales from Cosmo and The New Scientist

My sister always read the magazine Cosmo, even after she had comfortably settled into the wife/mother/career role. “It’s written for people like me, you know,” she said. “It’s what we think about, but would never do.” A sort of fiction, in other words, that you can indulge in guiltlessly.

I was reminded of her yesterday by two stories in The Globe and Mail. The first was about a young woman who has written a book about her very positive experience following Cosmo’s advice for a year. The second—on the same page in the edition we get—had its origin in a much more serious publication, The New Scientist. A group of researchers led by the University of Toronto’s Keith Oatley has been studying the social skills of fiction readers and how reading it affects the way people interact with the world. Their conclusion: fiction readers have exceptionally strong “people skills.”

"Fiction is really about how to get around in the social world, which is not as easy as one might think," the Globe quotes Oatley. "People who read fiction give themselves quite a bit of practice in understanding that. And also, I think reading fiction sort of prompts one to think about these questions - you know, what are these people up to?"

Anyone who loves a good story understands what Oatley is talking about. Think of all those things you might never experience but came across in the pages of a novel or a short story collection. Your world is wider and your appreciation of the trials and tribulations of others is greater. You may learn a lot too, even when you’re reading quasi-fantasy like Cosmo.

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