In Defense of Reading Fiction 101. Survival.


Recently several reasons for reading fiction came to my attention. The confluence of these different sources seemed almost providential. Therefore, let me share them with you, adding some thoughts of my own.

The first, paradoxically, is scientific (or what passes for science these days). A recent Yale study reports a “significant survival advantage” by seniors who read. (I’m not making this up. The story was carried in multiple news outlets.) In a nutshell, folks over fifty years old who read books (not newspapers and magazines) tend to live 23 month survival advantage over those who don’t. “Books are protective regardless of gender, wealth, education, or health.”

The amount of time spent reading matters: People who read up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely that those who don’t read books at all.

The findings are for people over fifty years old, but reading is the habit of a lifetime. If you’re not reading fiction thirty minutes a day now, you probably won’t start on your fiftieth birthday.

The study didn’t specify fiction books, but many history, biography and travel books read like fiction. I’ll address the advantages of reading fiction in future installments.

When I saw this study, I joked to my wife that, as many books as I read, I should live forever. (That’s not what the study found, of course.)

So, the takeaway is simple: Read books. I would say read good books, and maybe share what you read with friends, but as I’ll discuss next week the quality of the books is not always the determinant. The “penny dreadful” has its place.

5 thoughts on “In Defense of Reading Fiction 101. Survival.

  1. Did you mean “for” seniors instead of “by.” So, maybe a campaign to get people over 50 to write a book? HA. The research I’ve seen points specifically to fiction. Another study – while nonfiction is great to read, the reader is watching from the outside. However, the MRI studies with fiction. and non-fiction. demonstrate that with fiction reading the brain takes a journey along with the protagonist of the story. That journey stimulates the brain.

    I look forward to hearing more.

    Exactly, you’re going to live forever.

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