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Reading for knowledge or pleasure- which is better?

posted on July 15, 2019

Truthfully, I have been struggling with what to write about. I have ideas, but I don’t feel like I have enough resources yet to put out information. I have a few I am excited about that will come alive soon enough. 


So for now I am writing about something that has been acting on my soul lately. For the past six years or so I have read an exorbitant amount of self-help, self-improvement, personal development, non-fictional-real-life-learn something from the latest guru type of book. Sure, I made my way through the cornucopia of personal development land, learned new things, new skills, and new strategies for sifting through life’s whirls and winds. I was utilizing reading more to learn than to feel and this was an issue.


Maybe I used the Dr. Seuss quote too literal- “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”


Literary fiction provides something that no fact driven, non-fictional book could give or even sometimes, what real life can give us. The range of emotions literature brings out in us, we may never experience throughout life otherwise. It puts us in more situations than we could probably ever simulate in a life time and some of the situations we might not want to be in however, fiction provides perspective and can create some to develop empathy. And these novels, stories, and dramas give us situations to help us reflect and understand life’s intricacies.


The creative side of our brain needs this. This is termed “Theory of Mind.” This lights up a part of our brain that allows for de-construction of the character at hand, giving us the ability to identify with the character and all their desires, cravings, grievances, etc. Think abstract whereas non-fiction is more cut and dry. Fiction can also speed up time, go back, or even go into another dimension of time. We envision what it is like to go through a marriage and divorce, how murderers think, the atmosphere of the ultimate party at the Gatsby Mansion, or the exhilarating trip through the back of a wardrobe and into an imaginary land of winter ruled by a White Witch. Our brains like stories, to find meaning and go through the mental motions of what we are reading…as if we are there.


I used the self-development books to think they would fix me or the more I read the more I would be healed, find the link to happiness, know all the secrets and feel ready to take on life. And that could not be entirely further from the truth. These books are an aid, and they are just that. The self-improvement books are like sitting down with a therapist and leaving; not actually processing and practicing. Just simply negating all we had talked about.


How do we get stronger in the gym or change our body composition? Through consistency and patience. Through sticking to a program, eating well, knowing when your body is stressed, knowing when you did not get a good night of sleep and knowing to make adjustments the next day to accommodate. I should know this, but I did not realize it then. Sometimes life creates a lovely tunnel vision for weeks, months, or years and you can’t see it until you are on the other side *dramatic chest rising sigh*… finally. 


I would feel a sense of guilt for reading too many pleasurable fictional books and this would guilt me into picking up more educational or fact driven books. My time now is different. Less about myself and more about others. Connections. Research has shown that reading literature helps humans develop empathy and that is just one way to connect and feel for someone else’s story. Reading is a timeless way to explore the world. Or gloat on the feeling of warmth and innocence as you are re-reading some of the Harry Potter novels or The Chronicles of Narnia. Fiction also has a way of making us think in faint yet powerful and dynamic ways.


I am still reading every day. I am rotating between fiction and non-fiction however; I am allowing the wonder and creativity to take the reign. Both are necessary and coming from a science degree I can’t ignore my lunatic love for research, facts, new discoveries, etc. As a matter of fact, my next book will be a non-fiction for purposes of learning about new research and how this can hopefully impact our future in a specific area in our lives, but I can’t talk about it yet because it I will be in one of my blogs soon! 


All books serve a purpose in some way. This blog was not to be one-sided, it was to show there are more sides that we often leave behind and sometimes we need time to immerse ourselves in a story and take on another experience.


A book I am diving into as of recently is Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype. This is probably one of the most empowering books I have held in my hands. The author is incredible at story-telling and analyzing the myths and folk tales of the “Wild Woman” and the psyche of her. This book engages with Carl Jung and his theory of the archetype. I am ending this blog with a quote that I love from this book:


“When we accept our own beauty, it is put into perspective, and we are no longer poignantly aware of it anymore, but neither would we forsake it or disclaim it either. Does a wolf know how beautiful she is when she sleeps? Does a feline know what beautiful shapes she makes when she sits? Is a bird awed by the sound it hears when it snaps open its wings? Learning from them, we just act in our own true way and do not draw back from or hide our natural beauty. Like creatures, we just are, and it is right.”


By Alexa Ferri


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