‘Stop Nailing Fuglies! – A Guide to a Better You’? I’d sooner read the Bible (and I’m agnostic). For some people self-help books may have merits. But for the rest of us Londoners, the idea of reaching out to a self-help book is anything but helpful. Rest assured though, there’s a back-up plan. And it’s been right under our noses all along: I’m talking about good, old-fashioned fiction.
Skeptics argue that made-up stories are about as useful as a vow of chastity from Russell Brand. As a steadfast non-fiction fan once asked me, ‘When you can learn something real, why wander around with your head in the clouds?’
But maybe his judgment was the cloudy one. According to psychology professor Keith Oatley, fiction has benefits to boot. His research shows it increases our capacity for empathy, because we’re putting ourselves in different characters’ shoes. Sure Daisy Buchanan and I are worlds apart, but strutting around in her stilettos gives me insights to emotions that I wouldn’t otherwise experience.
On top of that, there’s the creative bit. With non-fiction we have a tiny part to play. But with fiction, we use the writer’s storytelling as a springboard for our own interpretations.
The pros we already know about shouldn’t go unnoticed either: escapism and enhancing your vocabulary. Capote’s rescued me from many a commuter armpit. And Amis serves up a pick ’n’ mix of undiscovered words.
But what if the idea of a night in, reading on your own, makes you feel all Sylvia Plath? Well luckily, today there’s plenty more on offer than a trusty paperback and a bedside lamp.
Book clubs are no longer reserved for Oprah groupies. Not only do they provide a social activity that’s a) free and b) doesn’t revolve around necking tequila, they also encourage us to use the analytical parts of our brains, listen to others’ opinions and bounce around ideas.
If DIY literary nights aren’t your bag, there are heaps of fiction-fuelled activities in London. Curl up in silky pyjamas while listening to Bedtime Stories at 40 WiNKS. Or indulge in a Bibliotherapy session at The School of Life, who’ll recommend books to help make you happier. You can even fuse fiction and food at Literary Dinners. The list goes on. And on. With bookish treats aplenty, and the rise of the Kindle, iPad and others, it’s easier than ever before to find solace in fiction. So don’t be afraid to press the pause button on your frantic life and p-p-pick up a Penguin (not the chocolatey kind, mind).
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