“Literature” is a broad term, but most people define it as writing with lasting artistic, cultural, and/or intellectual value. Literature includes ancient Greek plays, James Baldwin’s essays, and Charlotte Bronte’s novels. This type of writing deals with complex issues and ideas, encouraging readers to entertain new ways of thinking. Why is literature important? Here are ten reasons:
#1. Literature is a powerful stress reliever
It’s no secret to readers that literature can relieve stress and anxiety. Taking time out of the day to sit back and get lost in a good book does wonders for a stressed mind. Studies show it can slow down a rapid heartbeat, which is a common sign of anxiety, and take a reader’s mind off of racing thoughts. In 2009, Sussex University conducted a study on the effect of reading and found that reading for only six minutes reduced stress by up to 68%. That made reading a better way to handle stress than listening to music or walking.
#2. Literature fuels imagination
According to the World Literacy Foundation, reading is one of the best ways to develop a strong imagination. While there’s very little mental work involved in watching a movie, reading words off a page requires readers to create the scene in their mind. This exercise strengthens the imaginative parts of the brain, encouraging creativity and innovation.
#3. Reading literature improves concentration and focus
If a person struggles with a short attention span, reading can help improve that function. Research from the Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word found that the brain needs more time when reading than with other types of media. There’s less to work with – only words – so the brain works harder. As a book becomes more complex or challenging, the need for focus increases. The more a reader engages with literature, the more their focus grows.
#4. Reading literature keeps the brain active and healthy
Reading’s effect on brain health shouldn’t be ignored. Stretching the imagination and improving concentration are both forms of mental stimulation. The brain is a muscle and by taking the time to exercise it, a person keeps it active and healthy. Research shows that regular mental stimulation can slow down degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
#5. Literature expands a person’s vocabulary
Literature, unlike magazines or books meant for light reading, often contain challenging vocabulary. Older books, in particular, might contain language that’s unfamiliar to many readers. By engaging with a variety of literature, a person broadens their knowledge of new words and phrases. For those learning a new language, literature is one of the best ways to improve their skills.
#6. Reading literature improves a person’s writing skills
If someone wants to improve their writing, they should read more. Nearly all successful authors sing the praises of reading when it comes to mastering their craft. Reading literature not only fuels the imagination and expands vocabulary, it also offers a guide on different styles, idea organization, character development, and more.
#7. Literature improves a person’s communication skills
When a reader improves their writing through reading, they’re enriching their overall communication skills. This extends beyond writing into regular conversations and interactions. Good communication is key in every area of life, whether it’s in a career or relationships. Exposure to literature at a young age allows people to develop strong communication skills right off the bat. Adults can improve their abilities with more reading.
#8. Literature encourages critical thinking
Critical thinking is essential for life. It allows people to work through problems and determine what’s true. Reading literature provides the perfect opportunity for building critical thinking skills. A reader has to pick up on details, make connections, and form their own opinions on what’s going on in the book. Teachers frequently use literature to help their students develop strong critical thinking. It helps them understand the material better and gives them tools to use in their future careers.
#9. Literature teaches readers about history
They say if we don’t learn about history, we’re doomed to repeat it. Through the lens of literature, a reader can uniquely engage with history. It’s much more interesting than studying a timeline or memorizing facts. Even if the book is fictional and doesn’t focus on a specific event, a reader is exposed to perspectives from the time of the text’s creation. Works of literature from ancient China will reveal different truths than books from 19th-century England.
#10. Reading literature can encourage empathy
Every society needs empathy or we devolve into a dog-eat-dog environment that hurts everyone. Research has indicated that reading literature can fuel feelings of empathy in a reader. Literary fiction is especially effective at encouraging empathy. Why? It requires a reader to get inside the mind of more complex characters. At the Princeton Social Neuroscience lab, a psychologist learned that people who read fiction regularly are better at discerning what others are thinking and feeling. While the science isn’t settled, the idea that literature could make us better people is intriguing.