We’re all familiar with the adage that we are what we eat. Especially with children, the food we intake makes us who we are, builds us, helps us grow up to be adults. I believe the same applies to what we read. The words we intake help to build us, as well. New ideas, new concepts, they help to expand our minds, help us to think creatively, help us grow as individuals.
I’ve often wondered how much influence the books we read have on us. Again, I think it’s like food. We don’t consciously consider how the food we’re eating affects our bodies. We don’t necessarily think, “I’m eating an apple because it has these specific nutrients that will help my body in these areas.” We eat an apple because we’re hungry. And we like apples.
With books, we don’t pick up a specific title because it will help us to grow in a certain area of our brains. Well, that’s not entirely true. With non-fiction and textbooks, yes, we’re ingesting specific ideas and knowledge for a purpose. But let’s ignore that for a moment and focus solely on fiction.
I’ve always been a fan of science-fiction and fantasy. Some of the first books I remember reading were The Hobbit, The Wind from the Sun (a collection of Arthur C. Clarke’s short fiction), and the Doc Savage pulp novels. The latter I would pick up in airport duty-free shops and read on flights back and forth between South Florida and Chicago every summer. Action, adventure, and short enough that I could read a handful of them every summer.
Ingesting fiction feeds our brains differently than when we ingest non-fiction. Specifically, it nourishes our imaginations, teaches us to think creatively, and can help to inspire new ideas. It can even help us to see the world around us in different ways.
In fact, reading fiction provides much more mental stimulation that watching television. Why? Because watching television is a passive endeavor. You sit and watch while the stories are spoon-fed to you. Reading fiction, on the other hand, is active because you’re reading the words, the descriptions, and you’re using this input to create the visuals within your imagination.
So reading fiction is, in a way, mental exercise. It keeps our brains active, our minds sharp.
As for what we’re ingesting when we read, well, I feel it’s just as important as what we eat when we’re hungry. Ready bad fiction – badly written, plotted, etc – may be fun, but it’s like eating junk food. Moderation is important. Reading well-written, thoughtful fiction, stories that make you think or expose you to new ideas, is similar to eating healthy foods. It’s good for your brain.
Variety matters, as well. Eating nothing but bananas for a year is sort of healthy, but you’d be missing out on all sorts of other important nutrients. Same applies to reading fiction. I love to read science-fiction, but I also read fantasy, mysteries, speculative, horror, and anything else that catches my attention. A balanced reading list, like a balanced diet, is essential.
Plus, I find reading a variety of genres to be fun. I pick up different ideas, different ways of looking at things, and it plants the seeds for future stories and characters I may write myself.
Do yourself a favor and consider your reading list like you do your grocery list. Feed your mind like you do your body. That way, you can keep them both healthy.