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Why Reading (and Writing) Fiction Matters.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic. The three R's of education. We know math is vital for life; everything from adding up your bill and tipping the waiter to properly hanging a picture rely upon math. Remembering to measure twice and cut once will only work if you have a handle on your numbers. But, why should we care about writing and reading? With older texts pulled from school curriculum lists and the amount of required reading being reduced, why should literature still matter, and why is it vital in our modern age?

1) Literature Teaches.

Your third grade teacher had a reason behind reading time. She or he understood that reading was an excellent way to not only impart knowledge but also teach empathy, an understanding of other cultures, and respect.

Prosecutor and deputy commonwealth attorney Alejandra Rueda saw firsthand the powerful effects of reading when she used literature to educate teens who were tagging buildings with racist graffiti. Rueda of Loudoun County, Virginia was given a case regarding five boys who tagged a 19th century schoolhouse with swastikas (Broom). She looked into the matter and discovered that none of the boys, ages 16 and 17, had been previously charged (Broom). She deduced that they failed to understand the significance of their actions and the meaning of the swastika. Thus, she opted to give a punishment that would educate. Working with judge Avelina Jacob, a plan was written up listing 35 books of which each teen was required to read 12. They then wrote an essay each month about a different work. Texts included The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The boys were also required to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and an exhibit on Japanese-Americans during WWII as presented at the National Museum of American History. They finished their sentence by completing an essay outlining what they had learned.

Not surprisingly, the idea worked. Many of the boys concluded their sentence with not only a changed opinion about racist and hateful actions, but with a greater understanding of human suffering, the sins of our past and why racist actions are wrong. None of the boys have re-offended. Due to the overwhelming success, other courts have considered the reading approach for similar cases (Broom).

Rueda used literature and the power of story to challenge youth offenders' opinions about other races, cultures and history. Through the language of story and a shared human experience, as depicted via literature, each offender was challenged to re-evaluate his ideas, opinions and views. At the end of the day the pen is mightier than any other punishment as it has the power to change minds.

2) Stories Reach People on an Intimate, Deep Level.

Stories of human suffering, victory and endurance inspire readers. In addition, stories of the fantastical, the impossible and the otherworldly create worlds of imagination and encourage readers to themselves be creative. Books, be they historical, science fiction, mystery or any other mix of genres, create life long, creative readers and artisans. Just think of your favourite superhero film. The director(s) probably grew up reading not only great comic books but also amazing literature.

3) Reading Improves Your Understanding, Writing and Communication Skills.

The more you read the more you know, but also the larger your vocabulary becomes, the more diverse your sentence structure is and the more aware you are of different forms of communication. The age old piece of advice is that good writers are good readers, and to become a better writer you need to read more.

It makes sense. If you read well written work you will learn by exposure, over time, the hallmark of good writing. You will learn by example. Therefore, read. Read as much as you can and then read more. You'll be a better person because of it and a better writer as well.

4) Learning From Past Experts Ensures you Won't Make the Same Mistake.

Reading allows you to learn from the past. Why repeat the mistakes of those before you when you can learn from them and improve. The Bible is full of Old Testament verses imploring the Israelites to remember, remember their past, remember their forefathers, remember how God saved them from Egypt. The text places a strong emphasis and high value on memory as it can prevent the Israelites from repeating their mistakes.

Do you recall the old adage, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, Shame on me"? The same idea applies here. If you burnt yourself on the stove it would be terrible, but if you burnt yourself a second and third time, you clearly weren't learning from your earlier mistake. Books allow us to read and learn from the past, from other's errors and to grow. Hopefully we won't repeat the same mistakes in the future. Literature and books could literally save your life by preventing future errors.

5) Reading and Writing are Excellent Forms of Self-Care.

Lastly, but not least, reading and writing are both ideal for positive self-care. I've seen advertisements for writing workshops dedicated solely to writing as therapy. Many individuals use diaries, journals or fictional writing as a way to deal with loss, stress or anxiety. Writing can be a coping mechanism for current problems. You can work through concerns, issues and problems by writing them out on paper or putting them into your fictional stories. Sometimes it's easier to explain your concerns when a fictional character says things for you.

Likewise, reading is also an excellent form of escapism from the stress of life. The common phrase of being "lost in a book" expresses how easy one can become pulled into a story. Books are often great escapes for children who struggle at school, are bullied or frequently ill. Books also provide rest and retreat for adults as they welcome everyone equally into a world of fantasy, magic, mystery and happy endings.

Thus, the next time someone questions why you're taking time out of your day to read or to write, simply inform them that you're educating yourself and focusing on self-care. Then hand them a book or a pen and invite them to join in. And as always...

Keep Writing,



Broom, Douglas. "A US Judge Sentences Vandals to Read Books.This is What Happened Next." World Economic Forum.

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