Think reading fiction is a luxury you can’t afford? Think again. If you’re like many, it’s easy to justify reading non-fiction; the value seems so much more tangible. Because it can provide a direct path towards executing a new business strategy, implementing a new eating plan or learning about a period in history, reading non-fiction feels like a productive use of your time (a sacred and scarce resource!). But reading fiction — novels — can be just as beneficial, albeit in different ways.

“Reading allows you to experience new worlds and ideas that you might not otherwise encounter,” says Paula Nothstine, MRW and senior resume writer for Jody Michael Associates. That alone provides myriad benefits. Research has proven that reading fiction can help develop empathy, reduce stress and increase both emotional and fluid intelligence.

At an even more basic level, it can help you relax, recharge and regain perspective. Maura Koutoujian, a career and wellness coach at Jody Michael Associates, says, “I enjoy and read so much non-fiction that it is important for me to set time aside for fiction … to allow my mind to wander and be free.” She points out that she enjoys choosing stories outside of her everyday sphere, and advises clients to do the same. “If you’re recently widowed, and read a story that involves the death of a loved one, on the one hand, it can be cathartic. But on the other, reading about something completely different provides a healthy escape from your own grief, even if only for a brief moment.”

JMA’s Top 10 Picks for Fiction

Because the holidays afford some people downtime (at least in theory!) … and because books make great holiday gifts, we’ve compiled a list* of the favorite books we’ve read over the past year. We hope you enjoy them, too!

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving — While not a light read, this novel vividly captures the sometimes-sad, sometimes-funny journey of growing up.
  2. An Irish Country Doctor, by Patrick Taylor — A powerful reminder of how important it is to practice compassion for others, to be able to shift your perspective and to approach challenges with an open mind. Even better, the phonetically written dialogues took me right back to my vacation in Ireland, even if only temporarily!
  3. By Gaslight, by Steven Price — Who doesn’t love a good heist, betrayal, and murder? Potentially daunting at 700+ pages, if you approach this book with no expectations, and without looking for the ending, you’ll delight in the tale, as well as the characters and vibrant descriptions that made me feel like I was literally breathing in the soot and grime of London in the mid-19th century.
  4. My Mother’s Secret, by J.L. Witterick — A different kind of World War II book, this beautiful intertwined story illustrates the power of conviction — and compassion. Based on a true story.
  5. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein — Fresh, funny and a little bit sad, this book tells an engaging tale through the lens of a dog. A delightful read!
  6. The Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin — This historical novel focuses on Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s wife, and her life — both as the wife of Charles Lindbergh as well as what she was able to do as a pioneering, independent woman.
  7. The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare — Set during the time of the Roman empire at the beginning of the first century A.D., this novel very clearly tells the story of a teen boy’s transformation from being orphaned, bitter, and angry to being part of a family, loved, and whole again. A Newberry Medal winner for children’s fiction — but grown-ups will enjoy it, too!
  8. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini — Transcending ethnicity, culture and gender, this poignant novel is not only beautifully written, it is also powerful in its ability to unite, rather than divide.
  9. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain — This book centers around Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, and illustrates their life in Paris in the 20s. It takes you back in time, providing a glimpse into how they lived their lives.
  10. The Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda — Crossing continents and culture, this beautiful story tells the tale of sometimes-imperfect characters, connected by a common thread: the love between parent and child. Whether you’re a mother or a daughter, this book will speak to your heart.

*In alphabetical order, by title. Thanks to Anna Bray, Mardee Handler, Karen Hoffman, Maura Koutoujian, Jody Michael, Paula Nothstine and Kelly Obbish for contributing their favorite novels of the year to this list!

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