Could reading fiction, especially stories with violence and death, be dangerous? Mark West, my friend who is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, addressed this question on a recent segment of the television show "America Now." Here's the link to 'How reading habits affect personality.'
Mark says if a person habitually reads fiction, its likely a way for them to flee their own reality. It takes you out of your world and puts you into a more exciting world, it's a sense of escape essentially."
One of the appeals of reading is that escape from a typical day into a different world. Readers learn about how the protagonists solve problems, fight demons, slay dragons. We all don't have dragons to slay, anymore. But reading fiction often helps get our wheels turning to think about how we can solve problems -- not with swords and guns -- but intelligently and smartly.
By the way, Mark's office, which is lined with books and objects related to contemporary culture, looks very cool.
While re-reading Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend for the Dickens seminar this week, I am reminded how the novel often parallels contemporary life. We are still concerned about dust, dirt and recycling, about the rich and the poor, about choosing the right person to marry. Reading Dickens, we can see how the characters approached their problems, and perhaps how we can avoid some of those mistakes, or perhaps not.