If you feel yourself taking flight with heroine Maggie Steele as she pole-vaults over the moon, don’t be surprised.
Many readers of the new teen novel Maggie Vaults Over the Moon have actually felt the physical sensation of vaulting higher and higher — and a new study explains why.
According to the article, “Your Brain on Fiction”, something amazing happens to our brain when we simply read about fictional characters doing exciting and dramatic things. Our brain responds like we’re really doing those things ourselves. The study shows that when Maggie takes flight, readers do, too.
Writing for The New York Times, Annie Murphy Paul reports that, while many people today are fixated with digital devices and spending most of their free time on Facebook or Twitter, new evidence shows we could all benefit from putting away our smart phones and reading good fiction.
According to the story, scientists have come to realize that, to the brain, a fictional account can seem even more real than the real world:
Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. … there is evidence that [the brain] responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing…
Olympic pole-vaulters, sportswriters, book reviewers and everyday readers say they’ve felt themselves soaring with their favorite fictional pole-vaulter. The reviewer from Kirkus Reviews felt “authenticity and tension” as Maggie ran down the pole-vault runway and launched herself skyward toward the towering crossbar — an experience which another reader-reviewer called “exciting and very real.”
To help make the pole-vaulting segments as realistic as possible, author Grant Overstake consulted with Olympic pole-vaulter and coach, Earl Bell. The former world record-holder described in his own words what it feels like to soar higher than most people could ever imagine. The end result is a novel that has been enthusiastically endorsed by a pair of 2012 US Olympic Pole-Vaulters, Becky Holliday and Jeremy Scott, who also know what it feels like to fly high over a crossbar.
America’s top female sportswriter, Christine Brennan of USA Today, covers all of the major sporting events and interviews real superstars. But after encountering the fictional farm girl who overcomes great obstacles on the printed page, Brennan wrote, “We all wish we were pole vaulters like Maggie.”
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; which explains why the town of Grain Valley, Kansas came alive for an older reader-reviewer who felt so drawn in, she didn’t want the story to end.
“Getting to know Maggie Steele, her family, and the whole warm and caring community of Grain Valley was a pure delight,” she wrote. “This was a well-crafted story with enough detail to transport us into being inside each and every scene.”