Reading and Social Understanding


If you’re like me, growing up in the demographic bubble of an upper-middle class town in northern New Jersey can have its advantages and its flaws. One flaw, in particular, is its lack diversity. Amongst a sea of privileged white faces, it can be hard to meet people with a distinctive history. The students who attend Northern Highlands High School, including myself, generally share the same background, coming from upper-middle to upper-class families, born and raised in New Jersey or somewhere not far away. We all tend to think and interact the same way, and by doing our world view is constructed. However, when you read “it’s almost like you’re in a whole other place.” (Griffen)  This is why reading is so important. I read narratives, novels, and other forms of literature because it is an unlimited source of social knowledge.

Reading “is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills.” (NYC) When we read fiction, we come to understand the narrator’s thought process, we witness the dialog unfold between characters, we empathize with their struggles. We “learn through timages-12heir lessons” said one of my classmates. While reading, we are also uncovering a writer’s most personal identity. All of his or her innermost thought, morals, values, and ideology has been beautifully inscribed in words for us to inherit. We learn more about a person through their text without ever having met them. According to Dr. Oatley, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world is extremely tricky” and “stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

In my elementary school years, I was a little socially underdeveloped. I felt awkward around other kids so I was a bit of a loner. My only interaction with people was during recess and football, so my primary source of social knowledge came from the books my dad would force me to read. By the 5th grade, I’ve read Les Miserable, Moby Dick, the Old Man and the Sea, the Mutiny on the Bounty. Not a lot of them helped me socialize with a bunch of other 11-year-olds, but I still learned a lot about how people think and interact in society and I use that knowledge today. I learned how some men become can be consumed by obsession when confronting their greatest adversary, from Moby Dick and the Old Man and the Sea. From Mutiny on the Bounty, I learned that authority was only an illusion and the only real power a person has is what is given to them by their subordinates and how that power can be taken back. I learned about how law and justice are not always one in the same, by reading Les Miserable. I learned these invaluable lessons about society and the human mind without ever having to talk to a single person. I read because I learn more about people by reading.

Work Cited

Paul, Annie M. “Your Brain on Ficiton.” N.p., n.d. Web.

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