Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Brain on Fiction

My entire life (well as long as I have been able to read) I have loved reading fiction. When I was a child I would bicycle the mile to our library, take out the allowed four books, trek back home and read. Four days later, I’d ride back to the library for four more books. I was always frustrated that they would only let me take four books out at a time.

With three younger siblings, it was difficult to read without being interrupted. Eventually I nailed boards into the side of a tree that was right next to our garage and would climb up the tree to sit on the roof of the garage under the canopy of the tree and read in peace. I could even pretend that I didn’t hear my mother calling me in :). 
During my grade school years, I would read about a book a day. During my later elementary years, my favorite books were the Trixie Belden mysteries. I actually saved my money to purchase these books for myself... the beginnings of my extensive fiction library. I only really read the first six books in the series, written by Julie Campbell. I never really liked the books by the next author. I also enjoyed the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries but my favorite character by far for several years was Trixie Belden. As an adult I have enjoyed science fiction, mysteries and mostly romance. There is enough stress in real life and I prefer that my reading be removed from real life... thus I prefer happy endings with minimum of stress. My favorite mysteries are the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. My favorite science fiction series is the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne Mccaffrey. I have a complete collection of D.E. Stevenson books in hardback... some first editions... which I have collected over many years through 
I have several favorite romance writers: Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Julia Quinn, Trisha Ashley, Katie Fforde and Georgette Heyer . My favorite classic books are those written by Jane Austen. I read others, of course, but those are the favorites that I return to time and again.
I was extremely interested to recently read an article in the New York Times about how our brains respond to fiction. I have always enjoyed immersing myself in the world of the fiction book. Reacting to the characters and feeling about the characters as if they were real people. I’ve already talked about how I am an introvert and really don’t have any close friends at this point. What I do have, is friends in books and on blogs.

My reading has always provided me with a rich heritage of good friends. Now, I know that these good friends, particularly those in books, can’t listen to me ... but frankly, most of the friends I do have spend all their time with me talking to me. There’s very little listening (their listening) going on.

Anyway, I find the following quote very interesting:

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

This kind of confirms my life experience. Fictional situations, worlds and words are a simulation of reality.  Now I don’t have to feel so bad about my obsession with fiction worlds. I can just sit back and enjoy my interactions with the characters and situations that others have created.

Thanks authors for populating my imagination with vivid characters.


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