How Reading Fiction Boosts Your Career & Makes You Smarter

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5 min read

When was the last time you read a book?

Okay, how about a fiction book?

If your answer starts off with ‘that time back in school…’, take comfort in knowing there are plenty of others who answer in the same way.

These days our attention is spread ridiculously thin, with notifications sounding out from multiple devices. Each blink and beep creates a chaotic symphony of competing demands, a soundtrack that we can’t seem to ignore.

There’s social media, news, podcasts, Tinder messages, and a list of ‘highly recommended Netflix shows’ that keeps growing after every conversation… that reminds me, I’ve got to add ‘Stranger Things’ to my list. Throw in emails and reading that forms part of the daily grind at work, and it is no wonder that we are perpetually time poor.

When some down time does magically appear, most people tend to gravitate towards a non-fiction book, such as an autobiography, or one specifically related to their professional field. Whilst it’s been well documented that reading is a common trait amongst highly successful business people and entrepreneurs, how does fiction fit in to the mix?

Why reading fiction boosts your career and could help you close that next deal.

reading fiction boosts your career and makes you smarter and makes you smarter
Why reading fiction boosts your career and could help you close that next deal.

The surprising power of reading fiction

During childhood, we are heavily encouraged to read stories. Remember how magical it was to get lost in adventures with The Famous Five, or immerse yourself in the relatable pre-teen angst of Judy Blume’s tales? Fast forward a couple of decades, and for many young professionals fiction becomes a forgotten medium. The amount of time spent reading novels drops off dramatically post school/university. But what if I told you that burying your nose in some literary fiction could be just what the doctor ordered to enhance your career, and help you get ahead of the game?

…women are significantly more likely to be in professional or managerial posts in their adult life if they read books at age sixteen.

Here’s why you should read fiction

Boost your brain power

Reading fiction can make you smarter. Neuroscientists have shown that reading a novel improves brain function across a range of levels. A study published in ‘Brain Connectivity’ outlines how reading fiction improves neural connectivity in the brain and provides mental stimulation. Reading will also help you process verbal and visual information better, and improve comprehension levels.

Sky rocketing your brain power could help you close that next deal, or secure a highly sought-after promotion.

Reading fiction increases empathy

Struggling to figure out how to work productively with those difficult clients? Read some fiction! Many studies have shown empirical evidence linking reading fiction and improved emotional intelligence and empathy. Literary fiction focuses on character relationships and psychology, and as such can help you improve your ‘theory of mind’- the understanding of others’ mental states. This is a valuable social tool that will help with networking, and developing relationships with colleagues and clients.

Become a better problem solver by reading fiction

Problem solving and thinking outside of the box is part of any professional career, irrespective of which field you have chosen. Reading fiction has been shown to assist in helping your brain with critical thinking and recognising complex patterns. Add to this the lift it gives your imagination, and you will be coming up with creative solutions in no time.

Increase your vocabulary…bigly

As far as reasons why you should read fiction go, this one is a given. The beauty and creativity of descriptions used in works of literary fiction are unique. Through exposing yourself to different genres, authors and styles you will inadvertently pick up an impressive amount of words to enrich your vocabulary. We all know what a huge part language plays in the professional arena, in both written and spoken form. Really, really, bigly.

Reading fiction keeps your memory sharp

Find yourself forgetting key facts in business meetings? Avid readers are seen to have slower memory decline as they age, and show less of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. Further to this, we are more likely to retain information in our long-term memory when listening to it in story form.

Fiction readers climb up professional ladders

A study from Oxford University has shown that women are significantly more likely to be in professional or managerial posts in their adult life if they read books at age sixteen. Extracurricular activities such as sports, socialising or other practical activities were not found to have any significant effect, which only serves to highlight the importance reading can have on shaping career paths.

reading fiction boosts your career and makes you smarter
Do you know that reading fiction boosts your career by making you a better problem solver?

Importance of reading fiction

Groucho Marx once said ‘I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.’ So, why not swap some screen time for a good book, or join a book club for that extra bit of motivation?

If you don’t have time to read a novel and know it will end up as a glorified paperweight, then dive into a short story. Publications such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker include a brilliant short story in each issue. They are the perfect length to read during your commute, or over a cup of coffee on the weekend.

As a certified book nerd, I love learning about how reading can enrich our lives in far reaching ways. There is no doubt that reading fiction will provide you with beneficial skills, both in the workplace and beyond.

Here are my picks for must-read fiction books in 2017

Published through Lena Dunham’s collaboration with Random House, Zhang’s short stories are fierce, unique, raw and witty.

This is Roy’s long-awaited offering after her success with ‘The God of Small Things’. It’s a novel that weaves multiple stories together masterfully, and it’s certainly worth the wait.

This story follows Selin as she navigates through her freshman year in Harvard in 1995. By the end of the book I really wanted to be her friend.

 Murakami returns with his trademark mix of the everyday and surrealism. This hypnotic collection of short stories focuses on men who have lost the women in their lives.

A debut novel that spans across many years in Ghana, ‘Homegoing’ is on my ‘to-read’ list. Judging by the rave reviews I am going to believe the hype and recommend it.

What are you currently reading, and what will you read next? Share your recommendations in the comments below. Then head over to The Iris Lillian Squad Facebook Group to chat with me about my love of fiction.

Faiza x

You might also like Five Amazing Podcasts You Need To Listen To Now and Why Quitting Social Media Made Me Happier.
reading fiction boosts your career and makes you smarter
Reading fiction boosts your career – yup!

Reading fiction boosts your career and other great benefits

8 Comments
  1. Tanya Wilson says

    Great article, thanks for the novel suggestions! There’s a fantastic short fiction instagram feed I read on the train to work – @circu.latte …definitely worth checking out

    1. Faiza Alles says

      Thanks Tanya! Love your play on words ;). I agree, micro/flash fiction stories are a fantastic way to get a quick dose of literature. The Instagram format would make it nice and bite size too!

  2. Kristin says

    I absolutely love getting lost in a good fiction book. I feel like it’s a way to trick my brain into exercising. It thinks, oh, this is a story, so this is fun, not work. Joke’s on you, brain. My second favorite are biographies. It’s wonderful to both pick up life lessons and immerse yourself in someone’s wonderful life story.

    1. Faiza Alles says

      Hi Kristin,
      Very well said!! It’s definitely a great way to get in a sneaky brain workout. Any biographies that you would recommend?

      1. Kristin says

        I recently picked up Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures to get details beyond the movie, and it’s a great read. I also recommend Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great, because to say her story is epic is an understatement.

        1. Faiza Alles says

          Thanks Kristin, will definitely check them out!

  3. […] Experiment and make your routine as efficient as you can. You might even have more time for reading. […]

  4. Magalys says

    I love reading so much. This is a great list of benefits! Usually fiction gets looked down upon once you get to college.

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