Why Should We Read Novels?

Cherie Harder, writing for the Trinity Forum blog, offers some compelling reasons to pick up a novel. Among them are:

Stories require, develop, and enhance the reader’s empathy.

Reading well – or “getting into” a story both requires and engenders the practice of empathy. Author Azar Nafisi compared a novel to “the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel.”  Not surprisingly, several studies have found that avid fiction readers tend to better understand and empathize with others. (There does seem to be an exception to this general rule in many university English departments; perhaps due in part to deconstructionism having eclipsed empathetic reading.)
Entering the world of another can both broaden and disrupt our own. It can reveal the vulnerabilities of those we thought powerful, the tender points of hard people, the secret loves of the inscrutable, the character fissures of those we thought pillars of probity – and challenge the reader to respond wisely with that knowledge. It may well be the reason that novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or To Kill a Mockingbird, or A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, had an impact far more powerful than any pamphlet or manifesto.
Stories develop our moral reasoning in unique ways.
By enabling the reader to engage and enter into the challenges, conflicts, disappointments, loves, and fears of a novel’s characters, literature provides opportunity to develop one’s moral reasoning and deepen discernment in responding to similar challenges, conflicts, and fears in her own life. A novel shows, rather than merely tells, the broad range of possible responses to a crisis; and characters must grapple with the aftermath of their choices. We learn from fiction because we learn from imaginatively entering into the dilemmas faced by the characters themselves.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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