What reading fiction teaches us about starting over

Do you read fiction? I tried to search google to find out how many books the average Canadian reads. In my own life, I know some people who always have a book on the go, and they might read somewhere between 20 and 50 books a year. Lots of others read a few books a year, and some mostly read periodicals.

There's lots of evidence that reading fiction does good things for our emotional intelligence. But that's not why most people read novels. They read because they like to explore new experiences and perspectives through language. Reading a novel takes you into the lives of people who are like you and unlike you, and your response to the novel gives you new information about you (whether or not you liked it).

Canada Reads finished yesterday. It's a kind of game show where 5 prominent Canadians each pick a book to represent in a battle to win the title of 'a book all Canada should read.' This year it featured an Olympian, an activist, a movie-maker, a wrestler turned actor, and an entrepreneur. Each had chosen a novel to represent, and the theme this year was starting over.

During the debates, the emphasis is on what makes the books different. Here's what made them the same: all five of these novels told stories of people who had to own their pasts to start over. Starting over in these novels wasn't about escaping from your past: it was about accepting it and moving on.
In these books, there is no such thing as a fresh start. Instead, there's new growth from the roots.

One of the surprising and wonderful things about people is that we are capable of owning our experience. However difficult the situations that drive us to start over, we can make sense of our response to them and use it to build something better. Every debater agreed, these books made them feel new feelings and think new thoughts about their own lives, their own pasts.


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