The ROI of Novel Reading

While recently browsing comment boards about novels, I came across one particularly interesting comment. “I fail to see the return on investment, in spending so many hours reading Asimov’s Foundation series, when I could be reading something about human evolution, psychology, etc.,” wrote the commenter. The post concluded with a request, “So please, explain why I should invest 100 hours reading science fiction novels.”

This question seems particularly pertinent in the business community, where this equation is particularly well known:

𝑅𝑂𝐼=(𝐺𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝐼𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡−𝐶𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝐼𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡)

𝐶𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝐼𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡

Novels are frequently viewed by individuals within the business community as having negative ROIs, providing a minimal gain at a steep cost. While we are willing to concede that novels may help us relax and unwind, they do so through the sacrifice of substantial time that could be spent doing more practical things, like brushing up on our technical skills, responding to emails, or reading non-fiction works. However, novels provide a larger gain from investment than this surface level analysis suggests.

There are practical benefits; novels increase both vocabulary and fluency of language and can help keep your brain sharp. The development of vocabulary and language fluency is easily traced; as you are exposed to more words, you retain more words. According to a recent Huffington Post article, entitled “6 Science-Backed Reasons To Go Read A Book Right Now,” researchers found that, out of 294 participants, those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, had slower memory decline than those who did not. Better language skills and increased mental sharpness can assist in a myriad of business areas, including communication and strategic decision making.

There are also less apparent or direct benefits; due to the inherent nature of novels, readers are encouraged to step into someone else’s shoes and to cultivate true empathy for individuals with vastly different lived experiences than their own. The Huffington Post article reports that researchers in the Netherlands found that people who were “emotionally transported” by a work of fiction experienced boosts in empathy. My personal experiences align with these scientific findings. Through novels, I have experienced worlds far away from my own that I never would have imagined or comprehended. Through Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, I experienced the 19th century plight of women, like Edna Pontellier, who were longing for equality, and, through Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, I experienced the familial struggles of immigrants attempting to make a home for themselves in London. These fictional journeys allowed me to better connect with, understand, and learn from those who have non-fictional journeys that sharply diverge from my own. As our world and businesses become increasingly interdependent, being able to bridge cultural divides is essential to a successful career and a profitable business.

Having a larger vocabulary, a sharper mind, and a heightened sense of empathy are substantial gains from investment. We, at VCF, frequently comment that, “Readers are leaders.” Novels are one way to see a positive ROI and to develop those leadership capabilities that your business needs.

*This blog was written by Lauren Onestak and published by Virginia Commercial Finance.