The debate concerning the utility of fiction is an old one. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle stood against his teacher Plato in arguing for art’s importance. Though philosophy and science have since tended to stand together in supporting engagement with art, it’s not so easy to convince yourself to set aside time each day for a good book. There’s little doubt, however, doubt that committing to read fiction regularly is beneficial. The positive effects of doing so are numerous and powerful – almost every aspect of your life is touched in some way by the experience of reading a novel.
What can fiction add to our lives?
Unsurprisingly, reading improves your vocabulary, and studies have found that reading fiction is more effective in this respect. There is also research to suggest that our ability to empathise with others is honed and furthered by engagement with fiction: individuals exposed to fiction display a greater level of empathy than those exposed to non-fiction.
Stress, tiredness, boredom – all familiar plights caused by a busy schedule, and all reducible by means of a good read. Studies show that reading a novel is a more effective way of ameliorating stress than listening to music, and opening a book in bed is a known way to improve your chances of sleep.
So it’s not difficult to see how picking up a novel can make you happier and more productive. But beyond the general benefits of reading, which books are most conducive to a better day in virtue of their content? There’s certainly no lack of choice, but here’s a few that we especially recommend:
A fixture on such lists, Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is a work for those seeking peace of mind and inspiration. Siddhartha’s story is a magnificent example of overcoming, change, and the discovery of meaning. Readers of all sorts can hardly fail to be inspired by his travails and soothed by the force of his personality.
Pick up this work at any time – you’ll find yourself clear-minded and rejuvenated. What previously seemed too much to deal with will suddenly appear surmountable. In short, look to Siddhartha’s journey to better your own.
Jeffrey Eugenides’ prize-winning novel, though often considered controversial, captures and thematises feelings of identity and belonging. Cal, the novel’s protagonist, is intersex. The reader follows both the assimilation of Cal’s grandparents into American society and Cal’s ever-developing considerations of self-image and identity.
Some critics have found the work’s themes distasteful, but whatever your ultimate position on the book’s meaning, Cal’s various thoughts and discoveries – perhaps most powerful is an incident in which he finds ‘monster’ under synonyms of ‘hermaphrodite’ during a trip to the library – cannot but bring you to reflect on your place in the world and the differing experiences of others. Here, then, is another novel for peace of mind. You’ll emerge far better equipped to deal with whatever might be waiting.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This one is ideal for anyone living their life immersed in technology. The author embarks upon a journey from Minnesota to California (on a motorcycle, of course). Its key theme is the opposition of the so-called ‘romantic’ and ‘classical’ ways of life, and the attempt to forge a middle path between the two. In Pirsig’s powerful sensitivity to his motorcycle’s operations, the reader can see an appreciation for technology’s neglected beauty.
The book itself is an open examination of how to live a good life. As it’s very likely that you spend your day surrounded by technology – and, indeed, that you have no choice but to do so – what could be better than finding beauty in that necessity. Here is a book to improve your day if ever there was one.
Then We Came to the End
Joshua Ferris’s description of office life is one for building an awareness of what surrounds you. His often dark descriptions of the pointlessness that can come with a working day will undoubtedly draw a chuckle and a nod of agreement (think of a more aggressive Kingsley Amis). And there is humanity to be found, particularly in the form of Roland.
Though dry descriptions of office life might seem an odd way to seek better focus, in fact the humour in Ferris’s novel can help put things in perspective. The office needn’t be so grim, and reading of the frivolous occupations that fill the working day of Ferris’s world is a good way to keep focus on what matters. Cut the redundant meetings and absurd theft – there’s real work to be done.
Turning Over A New Leaf
Many of us forget pick up a book every day. We feel too busy, too stressed. But altering your schedule so as to include engagement with fiction each day is an easy and pleasurable way to improve your life. There’s no better way to recharge than setting aside a few minutes each day for a read.