Romance novels account for 40% of the sales of popular fiction.
That's a fairly interesting fact in itself. But then a study in press at the Journal of Research in Personality showed that those who read fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than readers of non-fiction.
As I guy who reads about 100 books each year, almost all of which are non-fiction, this study bothered me when I first read it.
Raymond Mar (a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Toronto) says "Stories often force us to empathize with characters who are quite different from us, and this ability could help us better understand the many kinds of people we come across in the real world."
In fact, Mar suggests that the correlation between reading fiction and being more empathetic and having better social acumen is causal. That is, that reading fiction actually INCREASES our ability to understand others and to get along better socially.
There is a great book on the subject called "Why We Read Fiction" by Lisa Zunshine. Jackie Stanley wrote "Reading to Heal" about the topic of bibliotherapy. And Victor Nell penned "Lost in a Book" about the psychological and even physical benefits of reading fiction. But I won't read ANY of these books because I've made a commitment to read more fiction and all these books are non-fiction. I'm starting the new year with "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini.
I resisted the urge to read non-fiction and forced myself to browse new sections of my local Barnes and Nobles. I am a non-fiction junkie and it has been difficult for me to break my habit and indulge in reading something PURELY for pleasure. But I felt that I really NEED to do this in order to keep my social awareness in shape.
Until my new social acumen picks up though, I wonder if I will be less caring and empathetic about my fellow members of society. I wonder what other people might think of me if I seem boorish or somehow anti-social. Will others begin to think of me as some sort of non-fiction reading monster?
But then I realized that as a non-fiction reader, I couldn't care less what everyone else thinks.