Reading fiction has always been a popular pastime but the benefits to one’s own wellbeing are hugely underestimated, I think.
In this instance, I’m focussing on pure fiction, whether in the form of novels, plays, poetry and short stories – not manuals, autobiographies, history books etc, but works where a world and characters are the creation of an individual and the fictional portrayal in terms of language, setting, characterisation and plot is unique and the culmination of an individual’s unfettered mind and creative impulses.
Immersing oneself in another world, being a witness to the interweaving narratives and empathising with a cast of characters can at the most basic level distract us from our daily chores, but more significantly give us an alternative perspective and open our minds to the possibilities of humankind. You are never alone with a good book. I’m a fan of many works of fiction and don’t believe that if you aren’t reading the latest book that everyone is chattering about, you might as well not bother. All published fiction is there for the reading and so much of it has something that may resonate with us. I have found some of my best reads whilst idling around unprepossessing second-hand book stalls, browsing friends’ bookshelves and in the Library (I hope you are still fortunate enough to have one).
Reading fiction is relaxing and meditative in its own way. You need to invest some time when starting a novel or play but this in itself is beneficial; it’s good to divert your mind from that tricky problem or issue – when you come back to it, you may find it easier to deal with.
Read before you go to sleep – more conducive to a better quality of sleep than watching TV. If you have a Kindle, you don’t even need the light on.
Read on your train and bus commute instead of anxiously looking at emails or doing that extra bit of work. If you don’t read, then try an audio book. I love the spoken word and there are some fantastic audio books available where literature comes alive; let the words flow over you.
The effects of a particular work of literature may be transitory or long lasting; it may be turn out to be a dull book or a life-changing one. But a phrase or a conclusion which resonates or imperceptibly makes sense of something, helps us in some way towards our understanding of the ourselves and the world.
This is one of the reasons why generations go back to certain authors again and again. Shakespeare, who was writing for a wide public audience in his lifetime, seems enduringly relevant. There are countless lines spoken by his characters which chime with our thoughts and give shape to our experiences today.
I leave you with one happy line:
Joy, gentle friends! Joy and fresh days of love
Accompany your hearts!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theseus
[Maybe this could be the beginnings of the Happynesshub Book Club!].