New York Times writer Susan Pinker, a few years back, summarized research on the relationship between reading fiction and how we understand others. The article, “Novel Findings: Fiction Makes Us Feel for Others,” looked at several studies between 2006 and 2013 that revealed remarkably similar results. Here are two quotes that have advisors’ names all over them. 

“Fiction reading predicted higher levels of empathy. Such readers also lived largely in the flesh-and-blood social sphere, with richer networks of people to provide entertainment and support than people who read less fiction.”   

“Later studies confirmed that reading fiction causes a spike in the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions—at least in the short term.”  

And a third. A 2013 study took a different route. Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd of the New School for Social Research wondered if the “type” of fiction mattered. Their findings?  “Only literary fiction, which requires readers to work at guessing characters’ motivations from subtle cues, fostered empathy.”

What’s on your summer reading list? Like it or not, we are in the people reading, people de-coding, and understanding business. Before we get even close to determining risk tolerance, asset allocation, or investment recommendations, we must sit beside, listen to, and journey with our clients to that place where their stories and ours meet.

In a way, traveling through a novel is a no-risk relational simulation in which we observe how the story’s characters handle disappointment and wonder, success and failure, joy and grief, love and rejection. I can’t think of bettter ways to improve your people skills, and none more enjoyable, than reading a good novel!

The bonus is the ability to escape—for an hour or two—the demands of our very real lives. Here are five novels from my list that can place you in a laboratory where you will gain insight on how to understand yourself and others better.

In each of these novels, you will meet characters who struggle with who they are, what life is demanding from them, ethical and moral decisions of all kinds, and how best to face the always-uncertain future. So read fiction. Enjoy a well-written story while discovering insightful handles on yourself, others, and why stories are at the heart of what we’re about. 

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