People often refer to “getting lost” in a good book as an escape from reality, where one can participate in the world as somebody else. Essentially, reading can transport us to other places and into characters’ minds who are unlike ourselves.
Over the years, studies have demonstrated that reading promotes empathy. Even from a young age, teachers have used books to enhance the emotional responses in children to certain situations. This cognitive development helps kids relate to different perspectives and experiences.
When we read, we can understand what it’s like living as a different gender or race, immigrating to another country, overcoming addictions, or even enduring a natural disaster. In turn, this can help us connect more with the world around us.
Reading For Greater Connection
According to Pew Research Center, about 75% of U.S. adults have read a book in various formats in the last year.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when people were confined to their homes, they spent more time reading for leisure. It’s suggested this could be due to the lack of connection people had with family and friends and the sudden inability to venture outside of their homes.
Whether it’s the books we travel with, read for school or the ones we turn to in the wake of despair and fear, reading is not just an independent activity to occupy our time. It has the potential to be fundamentally social and transformative.
Both fiction and nonfiction stories have the power to change us into better, kinder and more open-minded versions of ourselves. When we engage in stories, we can better connect through the same mental landscapes and the characters we meet along the way. This may also translate to a newfound ability to respond differently to situations or people in real life.
Of course, books foster relationships that reach beyond human-to-human. They allow us to build deep-rooted connections with the physical world, as well.
Fiction In The Environmental Age
We live in an era where climate change and human influences on the planet have been thrust into the spotlight. While environmental movements have popped up across the globe to address these crises, there have also been numerous environmental-themed books published.
Fictional stories have painted dystopian or utopian imaginations of the future, depending on how books show humanity responding to specific climate change impacts. Many climate fiction novels pull concepts from ecocriticism, psychology and environmental communication to reach readers and encourage them to imagine how life on earth could potentially look.
Research has indicated that climate fiction readers are usually younger, may associate themselves with liberal politics and are typically already concerned about climate change. While similar studies are inconclusive on the influence of environmental fiction on climate deniers, books may offer a starting point for conversations that aren’t politically charged.
In addition to climate fiction, there’s been an influx of children’s eco-focused books published, as well, in what’s referred to as the Greta Thunberg Effect. Although some themes may be anxiety-inducing for kids under 10-years-old, environmental fiction is said to have several benefits on young readers, including making kids more curious about the earth, fostering critical thinking skills, and empowering them to save the planet.
Books That Paint A Bright Future
If books can help connect us to the world, humanity and the problems we’re facing, then perhaps it’s time more stories paint an idyllic future we can aspire to.
It’s been proven that storytelling can effectively alter people’s beliefs and attitudes as readers can better identify with the characters and immerse themselves in what’s happening to them. For example, a clearer literary vision of survival and hope may be the catalyst for change when it comes to environmental issues.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.