Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor

Imagination is a powerful social tool. The novel provides us with a sustained window into another world, while still exercising the creative faculties that make us co-creators of the worlds we read about. Having said all that, I am aware that there may be some confirmation bias operating, as I here introduce an article that supports a belief I already hold about literature.

New research by Stanford’s Joshua Landy , associate professor of French and Italian, illustrates how authors throughout the ages have sought to improve mental skills like rational thinking and abstract thought by leading their readers through a gantlet of mental gymnastics.

In contrast to the common practice of mining fictional works for moral messages and information, Landy’s theory of fiction, outlined in his new book, “How to Do Things with Fictions,” presents a new reason for reading in an age when the patience to tackle challenging pieces of writing has dwindled tremendously.

Reading fiction “does not make us better people in the moral sense, whether by teaching us lessons, making us more empathetic or training us to handle morally complex situations,” said Landy.

However, for those interested in fine-tuning their intellectual capacities, Landy said literary works of fiction can offer “a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments, a better redeemer of one’s own existence, a person of stronger faith or a person with a quieter mind.” —Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor.