We know that reading sharpens the brain, expands vocabulary and develops judgment. But research now shows that literature seems to improve our emotional quotient (EQ) as well is our IQ. The School of Social Research in New York, found that readers of literary fiction (sorry pulp fiction didn’t count) scored higher than any other group on a test designed to rate empathy. Participants looked at photographs of subjects and fervent readers could usually correctly identify whether the person was angry, upset, sad etc.
Understanding what others are feeling is critical to our social relationships. So even though reading is a self-contained pursuit it could influence your work and social life in a positive way. When we read a novel and relate to a character we also feel understood ourselves, or, perhaps something we always thought was true is validated in a book.
Novelists put our thoughts and feelings into words. This may actually improve mental health. Of course it is possible that people with high EQs are naturally drawn to literature (rather than literature imparting this “skill”) – did the chicken or the egg come first? Whatever – pick up a good book … it’s good for you …. And maybe even the people around you!
Great novels can be transformative and get into your subconscious in a more primal way than self-help books. Several therapists, “bibliotherapists” if you will, in fact “prescribe” certain books for therapeutic reading on a case by case basis. They are not saying books cure problems, but rather offer support or comfort. Here are a few examples from Ella Berthould and Susan Elderkin who say that feedback is 99% positive:
The Color Purple by Alice Walker; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora N. Hurston; The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim; Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins; Family Matters by Rohintin Mistry; What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (this latter is for bereavement, especially for those who have lost a child).
We often hear people say a book changed their life. For me I’d say John Steinbeck’s novels “upped” my EQ. Have you had a similar experience? What are some of your favorites?