My parents were completely convinced that anyone with a reading habit was likely to succeed more in life. So they encouraged the younger generation to read. They argued that whether you went on to be a lawyer, an architect, a business leader, a store owner, or a stay-at-home mom, having a grounding in good literature and a basic understanding of the sweep of human history and culture would provide the best foundation for any future learning – and for being able to interact well with other human beings. There was never a shortage of reading material at home…right from newspapers, magazines, comics, fiction and non fiction. Even though I was an economics major in college, I read pretty obsessively, mostly fiction and history, from a very early age and – in principle – I agreed with them.
However, one eternal battle at home was should one read more of fiction or non fiction. And what actually helps make you a better human being. I am sure all my readers have gone through this in their growing years. The thrill of reading a novel under the blanket with a torch :), or hiding a story book behind a text book…these are childhood capers most of us have indulged in. I could never resist a good novel when I could lay my hands on one.
My earliest recollection was reading the entire series of Famous Five from Enid Blyton and losing myself in the adventures of all the five lucky kids :). The first novel which had a huge impact on me, made me think & introspect, was Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I read it when I was in high school & the impact was such that, I went & declared to my parents that I would join the New York Mafia soon 🙂 :).
But…coming back to is fiction better or non fiction? Where should I focus when I read?
Just the other day I read a wonderful article in the HBR blog by Anne Kreamer, The Business Case for Reading Novels, talking about some fascinating research that supports my contention. She cites studies that show reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions.
The research Anne cites resolves my chicken-and-egg quandary. It seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations. It provides a richer ‘toolkit’ of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships. And as our business or work lives get more complex, faster-paced, less hierarchical and more dependent upon our ability to build support with those around us – that kind of toolkit becomes ever more critical to our success.
So if you’re feeling self-indulgent as you sit out on your porch of a weekend with Game of Thrones or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Lady Chatterly’s Lover in hand – reassure yourself that you may be improving your chances of business success just as much or more than if you were reading the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal.