Friday, March 21, 2014

5 Steps to Improve Your Mind While Reading FICTION

Photo credit: Original Bliss / Foter / CC BY-ND

Do you read for pleasure, just to pass the time, or do you read to improve your mind, your body, your life? Do you put thought into what you read?

I must admit, I’m a fiction junkie. It’s difficult for me to stick with anything non-fiction. The only exception to that rule is non-fiction written like fiction. Yes, I have issues. So what’s a junkie like me to do? Is it possible to improve oneself on a fiction-only diet?

I submit to you that fiction is a great way to improve your mind. But it takes some initiative. Here are 5 steps to using fiction to improve your mind.

1. Don’t inhale.
I used to burn through a 400-page novel in two days and then pull out the next one within minutes. Even late at night sometimes, like a chain-smoker . . . I mean, chain-reader. Can’t get enough. Must start another story.

But I found myself forgetting those stories. When I devour a story all at once, reading throughout the day, as fast as I can, breathless . . . it dampens the experience for me because I miss things. Who wants to gulp down a gourmet meal? No one. You want to savor it. Consider the flavors. The textures. Stop for a few moments to look around you - examine the world you are escaping into.

2. Chew thoroughly.
When I read something important, something I want to remember . . . I run over the details in my mind.  I limit myself to reading only after I'm finished working, but I think about the characters, the setting, the plot all day. I take time to savor the flavors. Discover nuance.

Photo credit: Insert Magazine / Foter / CC BY-NC

3. Let it settle.
We all know it’s a myth that you cannot swim right after a meal, but there is some merit to the idea of waiting for a meal to settle before you jump into something new. When you finish a book, what does that last line make you feel? Did it satisfy, or leave you wanting? Why did the ending succeed (or not)? Why do you miss the characters? What about the story surprised you the most? Why?

I know, this might feel like 10th grade English for some of you. But if we don’t take time to reflect on what we just read, then it dissipates and fades into something meaningless, a mere title on a list called: I've read that. 

4. Apply it to life.
Okay, people talk about applying the Bible to life. Or a How-To book. But fiction? Yes, fiction. Because stories are about people and the decisions they make. All we need to do in order to apply a story to life is ask the question: What if I were in that situation? Would I make the same decision? Why? Why not? Using the imagination can help us feel or understand consequences of certain actions without going there ourselves. And that can be a good thing.

5. Tell someone.
Anyone who knows me well can vouch for the truth of this statement: I can bring a book into almost any conversation. I’m not saying you need to talk about books all the time. But the more I read, the more I see good fiction reflecting life. If I have compared the fiction I read to real life, and if I’ve thought about similar situations and what I might do if I found myself facing similar giants, then I can voice an opinion on it. And sometimes when I share an insight I learned from a book, it makes someone else think. And then I have something new in common with the people I’m talking to and that builds relationship. 

Think about the best meal you can remember eating. Picture that meal as you start reading your next novel and consider these steps as you read. Savor the flavor. Your mind will be better for it. 

What do you think? Does it matter how you read? Can fiction improve your mind? Your life? Leave us a comment.

Postscript: This post is for readers. I realize folks in the publishing biz are not going to savor the flavor of the billions of words they must read everyday for work. But I think those professionals know how to chew on good words when they taste them.


  1. I think reading is wonderful any way you do it and fiction is a must.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. Very Good Jennifer. I'll have to admit most of the time I read the way you did. And like you, I would forget it in a few days as another one jumped into my hands. But lately I haven't had the time or energy to read much, so I only read at night before I go to sleep. And I've slowed the process down some. And sometimes I will reread a book I particularly like.and am amazed at what I missed.

    1. Exactly! I think this slowing down makes the re-read more possible. :-)

  3. I think reading is a wonderful way to improve your mind and your life! Thank you for sharing this great post.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  4. Oh, I agree with this post. A book needs to be savored and not inhaled. Especially if it's a well-written historical fiction novel. I love the details and want a novel to stay with me long afterwords. Contemporaries should be read slowly if they're not meant to be romantic comedy with short, punchy sentences. If that's the case than it's easy to fly through the book and have fun. I suppose suspense books would be similar. A cozy mystery, though, where one has to figure out clues and eliminate suspects needs to slowly read.

    Yes, I definitely think fiction can improve your life and mind. If the characters have real-life experiences and lessons to learn one can apply it to one's own life. I have been blessed many times by reading fiction. One can always use it as a respite to get away and relax.


    1. I like how you are approaching different genres - I'm glad to hear your thoughts!

  5. I read for content and context as much as for entertainment - I GET LOTS out of some of the Christian Fiction I read...I depend on my favorite authors to FEED me or CHALLENGE me as much as I do some of our pastor's messages. GOOD POST! Thanks for reminding me of this!

  6. Very thoughtful post, Jennifer. The books I remember are the character driven novels that evoke strong emotions.