Maybe the reason you’re inspired to pick up Joseph Boyden’s latest book, The Orenda, is because you heard it recently won the CBC Canada Reads competition. Or maybe you just enjoy a good tale about a feisty, magic Iroquois girl and a Jesuit missionary.
But there’s yet another reason to reach for a literary novel: It may make you a kinder person.
Social psychologists at New York’s New School for Social Research conducted a study in which people were given something to read, and then tested on empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. They found that those who read award-winning literary fiction scored higher than those who read sci-fi bestsellers, trashy romance novels, serious magazine articles, or nothing but the cracks on the wall.
The researchers have speculated that reading literary fiction (and, they guess, arts in general) may make us more sensitive and understanding. That’s because we exercise our insight and imagination to appreciate the rich, complex characters portrayed in these novels.
I, on the other hand, speculate that maybe I’ll now feel a little less guilty when I put off my vacuuming just because I’m engrossed in a book by Rohinton Mistry or Annie Proulx. Hey, I can now say in my defense, it’s making me a more compassionate person (if a rather slack housekeeper). And with my refined powers of empathy, you can be sure that when you do trip over the dust bunnies in my house, I’ll feel truly, deeply sorry for you.