What Type of Books Are Good for the Brain?

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”

Abraham Lincoln

Have you ever heard or read the quote by Abraham Lincoln above? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of quotes on books by famous – or not very famous – people on the internet but, how do regular people like us react to them? Have we read enough books to get an original idea? Is it true that we need to read more in order to know more? But with millions of books available in this world, how can we know what type of books are good for our brain?

I would recommend Fiction. Specifically, novels.

There was a study made by scientists from Emory University back in 2013 and was published in the Brain Connectivity Journal. Basically, the study shows that fiction gives positive effects on brain function as well as improves connectivity in the brain. Now, how is that possible?

So, for the study, 19 students were picked as subjects and told to read the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris. A popular book about the real-life eruption of Mount Vesuvius that happened on 29th August 79 AD, this novel was written in a more easily-read genre of historical fiction. These 19 students had to undergo brain scans via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) 5 consecutive days before reading the book, 9 consecutive days as they read the book, and another 5 consecutive days after finishing the book in order to see their brain activity.

After the tests were done, compiled and a median on the results were taken, it shows three significant things:

  1. There was increased activity in the left temporal cortex throughout the “reading days”.
  2. There was increased activity in the central sulcus throughout the “reading days”.
  3. The brain activity stays linear for a few days before slowly declining after no longer reading (stimuli).
Source from Wikipedia
Source from Britannica

What was concluded from the scientific experiment on the students’ experiences are:

  • Reading a novel allows us to put ourselves in the role of the person we read about, either the main character or any other characters in the novel. In doing so, we tend to visualise the scenes or take the identity of the character we’re reading. We would then rely on our emotions throughout the story, releasing chemicals in our brain; making our brain work better.
  • Reading a novel lets us recognise the actions or activities done in the scene or story and more often than not, our brain unintentionally “mirror” the activity through a technique similar to visualisation. This means, if we read about the main character in the book trying to swim away from a great white shark, the neural networks in our brain tend to activate the part that associates with swimming or even feeling panic (since there’s a great white shark coming towards us) and somehow we would also “experience” the act or emotion. Imagine how that can be applied to us physically!

So this is why I think reading fiction novels are great in boosting brain activity and connectivity. Novels are great because it is more detailed and expressive compared to a short story. Short stories are limited to less than 10,000 words while novels usually start at 80,000 words and above. Non-fictions like history or science books on the other hand might not achieve the same result because they are written in a factual tone, a place to gather information, and has no correlation with our emotions.

However, if you’re trying to become smarter and more knowledgeable, then of course your goal is to collect facts or you would need to do more written exercises like mathematics. Bottom line, you should never let your brain fall into a routine or be idle for long periods of time so that the risk of getting memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s is smaller.

If you’re looking for good novels, you can browse Goodreads Best Book Lists for some ideas on what you can read next.


Aliza M. is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Aliza M.
Author: Aliza M.

Traveller, Dreamer, Realist. Someone waiting to traverse the world again.