From Fast Company:
My favorite book is War and Peace.
And I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, another writer wanting people to think he’s all intellectual and highbrow.”
But it really is my favorite book, only not because it has 1,500 pages of unforgettable characters or a generational plot that is more compelling than that of any other book I’ve read. It’s because right before I started reading it, my life was in a rut. I had recently been passed over for a promotion at Apple and I had just been rejected by a graduate school I applied to. This double whammy left me doubting myself, my abilities, and my future. So when I came across the massive tome that is War and Peace, I thought, “Why not? I’m not doing anything else.”
Two months later, I finished the book and immediately knew I had a new “favorite.” But it wasn’t my new favorite book just because it was so compelling. It was my new favorite because it changed something in me. It’s almost impossible to explain why, but after reading it I felt more confident in myself, less uncertain about my future. I became more assertive with my bosses. I got back on the horse, so to speak, and applied to three more graduate schools. I attended three interviews and got accepted to all three schools (without mentioning War and Peace at all). As weird as it sounds, reading War and Peace put me back in control of my life—and that’s why it’s my favorite book.
But according to Dr Josie Billington, deputy director of the Centre for Research into Reading at the University of Liverpool, my experience wasn’t so odd. It’s actually the norm for people who read a lot—and one of the main benefits of reading that most people don’t know about.
“Reading can offer richer, broader, and more complex models of experience, which enable people to view their own lives from a refreshed perspective and with renewed understanding,” says Billington. This renewed understanding gives readers a greater ability to cope with difficult situations by expanding their “repertoires and sense of possible avenues of action or attitude.”
And those possible avenues of action don’t have to mimic those in the book. After all, I had no interest in learning the best ways to fend off a French invasion, even though that was a major part of the story in War and Peace. Rather it was in reading about the challenges the dozens of characters in War and Peace faced that I learned to look at my life’s challenges from a renewed perspective.
“People who read find it easier to make decisions, plan, and prioritize, and this may be because they are more able to recognize that difficulty and setback are unavoidable aspects of human life,” says Billington—and astonishingly these aren’t the only hidden benefits of reading regularly that researchers are now discovering.