Why do we read fiction?

Today I have read an article from the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. The article was written by Bob Usherwood and Jackie Toyne on the subject of ‘The Value and Impact of Reading Imaginative Literature.

The study considered the reasons given by readers as to why they enjoy reading. The first reason discussed was ‘escapism.’ The author touches on the traditional view of readers as insular and quiet and the fact that escapism would fit this stereotype as the reader is off in their own world and ignoring everything else.

I would definitely say that I read as a form of escapism. I am a worrier by nature and I find that reading really quietens my mind as I find myself caught up in someone else’s issues and problems. The only other activity I can find which performs the same function for me is playing a musical instrument.

Do my students read as a form of escapism? I would definitely say that some of them do. You can see them, when a class might be quite rowdy, sitting fixated on their book completely oblivious to what is going on around them. I envy them this ability because I need near silence when I read.

The next idea discussed is Reading for Instruction which is not often thought of when considering fiction. I would definitely say that I have become much more informed through reading fiction. At the moment I am reading The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay which is set in Roman Britain. Although the story is fiction, I am learning so much about Roman culture and civilisation.

I definitely notice my pupils benefiting from this. There is the obvious benefit of an improvement to vocabulary but they also come and ask questions about all manner of things based on what they are reading at the moment. We are slowly but surely adding more non-fiction to our Accelerated Reader choices but I still do make a point of saying to the pupils that you can learn just as much from fiction as non-fiction!

Krashen’s research is mentioned which details how children learn new words, grammar and spellings almost subconsciously through reading. I know firsthand that this is true because I was one of those children. I blogged earlier about my passion for reading from an early age; I could read before I went to nursery and I was always a good speller and story writer.

I went on to study French at university and I know that having a wide vocabulary in my mother tongue helped me to acquire foreign languages more quickly. The more words you know in your own language, the more likely you are to make links with words in another language; yet this is not necessarily something you would think about when reading fiction.  In fact, I might tell my next class that reading their AR books will help them in their Spanish lessons and see what they say.

One benefit I hope my pupils can assimilate is the ‘Insight into the Other’ that the article mentions. Coming from a teaching assistant background I have insight into the lack of empathy our pupils have, some of them are completely incapable of putting themselves in someone else’s position. Although the benefits to their learning have to be the main desired outcome from their reading, my second hope is that through reading about other people’s lives and experiences, they will be able to step out of the narrow mindset they have and consider other options and ways of life. Then we will truly have prepared them for the world outside of school.

Overall I found this article very useful, even though it mainly discussed adults’ attitudes to reading. It made me consider my own reasons for being a reader and also to examine the reasons why my pupils may read (other than because they have to!)


One thought on “Why do we read fiction?

  1. I’m interested when people talk about reading as an escapist act, as I think there’s a difference between “escaping from” and “escaping to”. The former implies you’re avoiding something harmful/unpleasant, the latter, more that…you’ve got better things to do than what your daily life presents at that moment. My reading as a teenager was a lot more about escaping to – I was bored with what was around me, books were better.


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