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Trust Aristotle… and read a novel

Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O’Grady boosting their emotional intelligence in HBO’s White Lotus

My grandmother used to say novels shouldn’t be read before the evening because they’re “not serious things”, says Jemima Kelly in the FT. Many male readers appear to agree – only 20% of men read novels. But those who dismiss fiction as self-indulgent are dead wrong. As Aristotle said: “poetry is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history, for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular”. He was right. In history books, “a narrative is imposed on a messy jumble of events”, as if life “progress tidily and even rationally”. With fiction, “there is no such imposition: the thing itself is the narrative”. That’s why fictional characters feel “more real to us than historical figures” – each one “represents a kind of embodiment of the human condition that we can relate to”.

There’s plenty of research to back this up. Studies have found that reading “literary fiction” – as opposed to non-fiction or lowbrow fiction – “increases empathy and emotional intelligence”. This, surely, is because it exposes the reader to a “much broader range of experiences and cultures” than they’d get from real life – different people, different beliefs, different desires, and so on. Other research has found that reading fiction gives you a “more complex worldview” and makes you more open-minded – you’re less likely to want to “remove ambiguity and arrive at definite conclusions”. So ignore the “life-hackers and productivity gurus”. Curl up on a comfy sofa or sink into a bath, and get “thoroughly lost” in a good novel. You won’t regret it.