People are suspicious of readers. What, they wonder, could be so enthralling about the inside of a book? Especially with the delights of daily existence all around?
I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been accused of anti-social behaviour, of being out of touch with reality, of preferring books to people. (A soon-to-be-ex boyfriend nailed me with that one: “You don’t even want to be with me, you’d rather read a book.” If you had known the fellow in question you would have fled to fiction, too, believe me.)
Well, vindication arrived today, in the form of the Globe and Mail. “A group of Toronto researchers have compiled a body of evidence showing that bookworms have exceptionally strong people skills,” the article says. (I love it when science confirms something that I’ve experienced: it just lets me know that the world does, indeed, revolve around me.) “Readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than those who read non-fiction texts.”
I love books not because they are an escape from reality, but because they give me a different way of experiencing that reality. Instead of enduring the discomfort and inconvenience of a ride on Calgary’s public transit system (what non-readers call “real life”), I can have an adventure, meet new people, enjoy a completely different kind of existence, all without risking grease stains or a broken heart. Fiction is a way to understand the world.
Besides, in my experience reality is no great shakes. I’d rather be reading.