How the brain works when we love a book

Bijal Shah, a bibliotherapist and author, is like a literary version of a matchmaker and counselling service in one – helping her clients find books that aid their mental well-being. According to Shah, the post-audiobook blues might be a hint of something innately human. “That is very, very common. It’s a sense of loss that you feel at the end [of a book] and you’re grieving. It’s like saying goodbye to so many friends you’ve made, because you’ve got to know this person over the course of the book and now there’s no more connection, and this is why sequels do so well – it’s that continuity.”

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have re-calibrated many of our lives and our minds in ways we’d never thought likely. So, here in 2022, where are we heading with our yearning for personal connection? “I think the way our culture is going is that we are so focused on individualism, that we are now sort of craving that collective community. My parent’s generation and their parents grew up in these communities where it was all about helping each other and less self-focused,” Shah says.

“Whereas now… we need other people to constantly affirm us because we don’t have those natural connections that our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation had – that sense of community where we knew our place, we knew who we were, we knew where we belonged. I think we’re lacking that, currently. I think books probably fill up that space because they’re forging [that sense of community] by vicarious connections, so filling those holes, perhaps.”

Leap of the imagination

On the face of it, it isn’t surprising that we’re more in need of community, a connection, than ever before. But it’s always been in our nature to be attracted to these aspects of life. So, what exactly draws us into a story? Cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley, from the University of Toronto, is the author of Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, which looks at how works of fiction interact with the brain and imagination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *