“10 Novels That Will Sharpen Your Mind”

Literature! and Science!

Scientific American shares “10 Novels That Will Sharpen Your Mind” featuring an interactive image exploring some of the ways that reading fiction affects our brains. Reading fiction engages us by encountering literary characters from the inside and outside — unlike our nonfictional worlds in which we don’t have access to the private thoughts and emotions of the people around us, even if we’d like to pretend that we do from time to time. We learn something about our own selves by seeing the world through the eyes of some of history’s most well-known literary characters (visit the SA article, and click each book for more info):

“As we follow the ups and downs of a carefully crafted story, we build connections within the social and emotional regions of the brain. The result, according to recent research, is a better understanding of other human beings and a deeper empathy for others, leading to improved social skills.”

Just for the sake of thoroughness, here is the list of novels on the Scientific American bookshelf. I would have chosen To The Lighthouse over Mrs. Dalloway. Just sayin’ —

  • The Sorrows of Young Werther
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Scarlett Letter
  • Madame Bovary
  • Middlemarch
  • Anna Karenina
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Beloved
  • Disgrace
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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On a related note, here’s an intriguing Scientific American article: “Fiction Hones Social Skills”, on how reading fiction affects our personality …


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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