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Mrs. Treffner

Recommended Literature List - California Department of Education - For High School Students

This is an alphabetized list of interests the California Department of Education has determined to be appropriate for grades 9-12

On this website, students can search for particular authors they enjoy.

This is a great resource and offers students many choices.

On Being Well-Versed in Literature by Joseph Epstein

"...From it I sensed that, if any inkling about the way the world works and the manner in which human nature is constituted were to be remotely available to me during my stay on the planet, I should have the best chance of discovering it through literature, and perhaps chiefly through the novel. The endless details set out in novels, the thoughts of imaginary characters, the dramatization of large themes through carefully constructed plots, the portrayals of how the world works, really works - these were among the things that literature, carefully attended to, might one day help me to learn."

Ninth grade Composition & literature 1 and honors 1 Syllabus 2018 - 2019

Glossary of Required Ninth Grade Academic Language 


The following glossary contains definitions based largely on definitions from  This glossary should serve as a basic reminder of language in an academic setting.


Analyze: to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or elements; determine the elements or essential features of or to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of: to analyze a poem or to examine carefully and in detail so as to identify causes, key factors, possible results


Argument: a discussion involving differing points of view or an address, or composition intended to convince or persuade, or an abstract or summary of the major points in a work 


Commentary: a series of comments, explanations, or annotations or anything serving to illustrate a point, prompt a realization, or exemplify


Compare: to consider or describe as similar


Contrast: to compare in order to show unlikeness or differences; note the opposite natures, purposes


Defend:to maintain by argument, evidence, etc.; uphold or to support (an argument, theory, etc.) in the face of criticism; prove the validity of (a dissertation, thesis, or the like) by answering arguments and questions


Define: to state or set forth the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.): They disagreed on how to define “liberal”or to explain or identify the nature or essential qualities of; describe


Demonstrate: to make evident or establish by arguments or reasoning; prove: to demonstrate a philosophical principleorto describe, explain, or illustrate by examples.


Describe: to tell or depict in written words, or give an account of


Develop: to bring out the capabilities or possibilities of; bring to a more advanced or effective state or to elaborate or expand in detail.


Evidence: that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof or something that makes plain or clear.


Explain: to makeunderstandable or intelligible: to explain an obscure point or to make known in detail; to assign a meaning to; interpret or to make clear the cause or reason of; account for


Identify: to recognize or establish as being a particular person or thing; verify the identity 


Predict: to foretell the future


Reflect: to think, ponder, or meditate


Relevant: bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; pertinent


Respond: to say in answer; reply


Summarize: to state or express in a concise form


Support: to uphold; to maintain by supplying necessary information.


Essay Terms


Thesis: a subject for a composition or essay

Topic sentence: a sentence that expresses the essential idea of a paragraph or larger section, usually appearing at the beginning.

Introductory paragraph: a preliminary part or a formal presentation of ideas

Body paragraph: of or pertaining to the main reading matter of an essay.

Concluding paragraph: to bring to a decision or settlement

Transition: the smooth movement, passage, or change from one position, subject, concept, etc., to another;

Cite: to quote (a passage, book, author, etc.), esp. as an authority: He cited the Constitution in his defense or to mention in support, proof, or confirmation; refer to as an example

MLA: abbreviation for Modern Language Association (of America)

Plagiarism: the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts     of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work or something used and represented in this manner.

Expository: of the nature of exposition; serving to expound, set forth, or explain: an expository essay; expository writing.

Narrative: a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious



Glossary of Required Ninth Grade Literary Terms


The following glossary contains definitions of terms based largely on definitions from It is in no way a substitute for your teacher’s definition that will be used on any tests or quizzes. 

This glossary should serve as a basic reminder of terms.


Alliteration: the repetition of the initial consonant. There should be at least two repetitions in a row. For example: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickledpeppers. The first letter, p, is a consonant. It is repeated many times.

Antagonist : a person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another; opponent; adversary or the adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Iago is the antagonist of Othello.


Aside: a part of an actor's lines supposedly not heard by others on the stage and intended only for the audience or words spoken so as not to be heard by others present.


Autobiographical : marked by or dealing with one's own experiences or life history; of or in the manner of an autobiography: autobiographical material; an autobiographical novel.


Biographical: of or pertaining to a person's life: He's gathering biographical data for his book on Miltonor pertaining to or containing biography: a biographical dictionary.


Characterization (dynamic / static): portrayal; description: the actor's characterization of a politician orthe creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.


Comic Relief: an amusing scene, incident, or speech introduced into serious or tragic elements, as in a play, in order to provide temporary relief from tension, or to intensify the dramatic action or relief from tension caused by the introduction or occurrence of a comic element, as by an amusing human foible.


Conflict (Internal / external): discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interests or principles or incompatibility or interference, as of one idea, desire, event, or activity with another.


Connotation: the associated or secondary meaning of a word or expression in addition to its explicit or primary meaning: A possible connotation of “home” is “a place of warmth, comfort, and affection.”


Couplet: a pair of successive lines of verse, esp. a pair that rhyme and are of the same length.


Denotation: the explicit or direct meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression, as distinguished from the ideas or meanings associated with it or suggested by it; the association or set of associations that a word usually elicits for most speakers of a language, as distinguished from those elicited for any individual speaker because of personal experience. Compare connotation.


Idiom: an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or raining cats and dogs, 


Figurative Language: speech or writing that departs from literal meaning in order to achieve a special effect or meaning, speech or writing employing figures of speech.


Flashback: a device in the narrative of a motion picture, novel, etc., by which an event or scene taking place before the present time in the narrative is inserted into the chronological structure of the work.


Foil: to prevent the success of; frustrate orto keep (a person) from succeeding in an enterprise, plan, etc.


Foreshadow: to show or indicate beforehand; prefigure: Political upheavals foreshadowed war.


Hero: the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.


Iambic Pentameter: a common meter in poetry consisting of an unrhymed line with five feet or accents, each foot containing an unaccented syllable and an accented syllable.


Irony (dramatic, situational, verbal): the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend, or a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated or a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., esp. as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion or an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing or an objectively or humorously sardonic utterance, disposition, quality, etc.


Line: a verse of poetry: A line in iambic pentameter contains five feet or Usually, lines. the words of an actor's part in a drama, musical comedy, etc.: to rehearse one's lines


Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our god,”  or something used to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

Monologue: a part of a drama in which a single actor speaks alone; soliloquy or a form of dramatic entertainment, comedic solo, or the like by a single speaker: a comedian's monologue.


Mood: a prevailing emotional tone or general attitude.


Motif: a recurring subject, theme, idea, etc., esp. in a literary.


Personification: the attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions, esp. as a rhetorical figure.


Plot diagram (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, catastrophe, resolution): a map of a story's structure, esp. the plot and sequence of events surrounding the main character(s)


Poetry: the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts or literary work in metrical form; verse.


Point of View: the position of the narrator in relation to the story, as indicated by the narrator's outlook from which the events are depicted and by the attitude toward the characters.


Prologue: a preliminary discourse; a preface or introductory part of a discourse, poem, or novel or an introductory speech, often in verse, calling attention to the theme of a play.


Prose: the ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure.


Protagonist: the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.


Pun: the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words.


Rhyme: identity in sound of some part, esp. the end, of words or lines of verse or a word agreeing with another in terminal sound: Find is a rhyme for  mind and  womankind or verse or poetry having correspondence in the terminal sounds of the lines.


Setting: the locale or period in which the action of a novel, play, film, etc., takes place: The setting of this story is Verona in the 15th century.


Simile: a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.”


Soliloquy: an utterance or discourse by a person who is talking to himself or herself or is disregardful of or oblivious to any hearers present (often used as a device in drama to disclose a character's innermost thoughts):Hamlet's soliloquy begins with “To be or not to be”or the act of talking while or as if alone.


Sonnet:a poem, properly expressive of a single, complete thought, idea, or sentiment, of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with rhymes arranged according to one of certain definite schemes, being in the strict or Italian form divided into a major group of 8 lines (the octave) followed by a minor group of 6 lines (the sestet), and in a common English form into 3 quatrains followed by a couplet.


Stanza: an arrangement of a certain number of lines, usually four or more, sometimes having a fixed length, meter, or rhyme scheme, forming a division of a poem.


Course Reading Planner 


Please note: For the first time in 2018-19, students will be offered more choice in their reading selections for each unit:


The theme is the central idea in the story; it is usually universal. Hate is a subject not a theme. Hate stinks is a theme. An author’s theme explains the author’s thoughts on a subject:

Video animation about theme


Students will have multiple opportunities to choose a title; although, the focus theme for the reading will be different for each unit. Students may only read a book once for class credit.

The subject of the theme 


Possible Novel Choices – Subject to change


Of Mice and Men –John Steinbeck

Unbroken –Laura Hillenbrand

The Importance of Being Earnest– Oscar Wilde

Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare


The Martian- Andy Weir

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka


EIF Cross-curricular Project

Freedom and Confinement

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

In the Time of Butterflies – Julia Alvarez

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

The Glass Castle- Jeannette Walls

Lies and Deceit

The Importance of Being Earnest– Oscar Wilde

The Odyssey – Homer

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Social Inequity – Class 

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry

In the Time of Butterflies – Julia Alvarez

Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka


The Glass Castle- Jeannette Walls

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Glass Castle- Jeannette Walls

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

Language, Communication, and Writing

Unbroken –Laura Hillenbrand

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

The Supernatural

The Tempest – Shakespeare

The Odyssey – Homer

The Lovely Bones – Alice Seabold

The Glass Castle- Jeannette Walls


The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

Along with theme students will focus on plot development, and tone as developed by the point of view, diction, Imagery, details, language, and syntax

Each unit will have accompanying supplemental texts and writing assignments.





(Point ofView)

1st, 2nd, 3rd objective,

3rd limitedomniscient,




Unusualand/oreffective words

Helps derivetone/mood



Sensory detailsthat paint a

picture in themind of the reader: taste,smell, hear, feel, see



Facts or sequence ofevents



Devices (stylistic,rhetorical)

Type (formal,informal, clinical,jargon, literal,vulgar, artificial,sensuous,concrete, precise,pedantic, etc.)



Sentencestructure(simple, compound,complex, asyndeton,polysyndeton, etc.)



Eleventh Composition & Literature 3 Syllabus 2018 - 2019

Glossary of Required Eleventh Grade Academic Language 


The following glossary contains definitions based largely on definitions from  This glossary should serve as a basic reminder of language in an academic setting.


Acknowledge: to recognize the authority, validity, or claims of or to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of


Address: a speech or written statement, usually formal, directed to a particular group of persons or manner of speaking to persons; personal bearing in conversation.


Aspect: a way in which a thing may be viewed or regarded; interpretation; view or part; feature; phase or bearing; air; mien


Assess: to estimate or judge the value, character, etc., of; evaluate.


Assume: to take for granted or without proof; suppose; postulate or to take on (a particular character, quality, mode of life, etc.); adopt 

Complexity: intricacy


Comprehensive: of large scope; covering or involving much; inclusive


Concept: a general notion or idea; conception or an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct or a directly conceived or intuited object of thought.


Critical: occupied with or skilled in criticism or involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc


Discrepancy: an instance of difference or inconsistency


Emphasis: special stress laid upon, or importance attached to or special and significant stress


Overview: a general outline of a subject or situation; survey or summary.


Perspective: the state of one's ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship or the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship or of or pertaining to the art of perspective

Proposition: a statement of the subject of an argument or a discourse, or of the course of action or essential idea to be advocated.


Rationale: the fundamental reason or reasons serving to account for something or a statement of reasons or a reasoned exposition of principles.


Recommend: to present as worthy of confidence, acceptance, use; to commend; mention favorably or to represent or urge as advisable or expedient or to make desirable or attractive. 


Reveal: to make known; disclose; divulge


Synthesize: to form (a material or abstract entity) by combining parts or elements (opposed to analyze)


Trace: to follow the course, development, or history of or to ascertain by investigation; find out; discover


Essay Terms


Vary sentence structure

                        Adjective clause: Recognize an adjective clausewhen you see one.

An adjective clause—also called an adjectivalor relativeclause—will meet three requirements: First, it will contain a subjectand verb. Next, it will begin with a relative pronoun[whowhomwhosethat, or which] or a relative adverb[whenwhere, or why]. Finally, it will function as an adjective, answering the questionsWhat kind?How many?or Which one?Whose big, brown eyes pleaded for another cookie?

                        Absolute clause: contains its own subject, has a non-finite verbor no verb at all, is separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma or commas, and is not introduced by a subordinator(e.g., because).


American related research/persuasive paper (Synthesis Essays: Synthesis means putting ideas from many sources together in one essay or presentation. After reading several books, watching movies and participating in a variety of class activities, your task is to organize some of the information around a theme or a question, make generalizations, and then present information (statistics, quotes, examples) in a logical way to support your argument. Remind yourself that a synthesis is NOT a summary, a comparison or a review.Rather a synthesis is a result of an integrationof what you heard/read and your ability to use this learning to develop and support a key thesis or argument.)

(Jane Schaeffer) Style Analysis Essay

Begin Poetry analysis

Satirical (the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.)writing

Historical investigation



Course Planner – This is subject to change 


Please note: For the first time in 2018-19, students will be offered more choice in their reading selections for each unit:



First Quarter


Unit 1: Man, Matrix, and Mind – The making of American Literature. 

Students will have access to a History of American Literature timeline to be used throughout the year.

  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 


What are basic human rights? Why Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

What does it mean to be an American?

Focus Rip Van WinkleBy Washington Irving and the birth of American Literature

Possible Additional Readings: Native American Writings, In the American Grainby William Carlos Williams, Excerpts from A People’s History of the United States

Writing: Description and Detail Selection Essay, Exemplification Essay to show, explain, or prove a point.

Reader Response Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for personal meaning

Questions and Strategies:

1.In what ways is the text familiar to your life? Think of events in the story, the types of characters, or the setting…  Can you relate to it on a personal level?

2.In what ways is the text different than your life?

3.How did the text affect you?

4.How has the text increased your interest in the subject matter?

5.How has the text changed your worldview?


Unit 2: Voices, Virtues, and Vices

Focus The Crucibleby Arthur Miller, and The Scarlet Letterby Nathaniel Hawthorne, Beloved by Tony Morrison,  …

Lenses through which we view texts –At least eight ways exist to read and interpret texts. As you read, consider shifting your perspective or viewpoint, or the LENSES THROUGH WHICH YOU READ.  What lenses might offer you more insightinto the text?


Possible Readings: Puritan Literature, Slave Narratives, Sermons, selected poetry Possible Writings: Student Sermons, Rewriting an Essay from High to Low and Low to High Diction. Rewriting an Essay to vary syntax or reduce syntactical structures, Literary Analysis Essay                                                                                                                   Speaking: Student Sermons


Second Quarter


Unit 3 Language and Objectivity The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 


Readings: Realism, Naturalism, Journalism, The Red Badge of Courage; Winesburg, 


Historical Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for its contextual significance. This would include information about the author, his or her historical moment, or the systems of meaning available at the time of writing.

Questions and Strategies:

1.Research the author’s life and relate the information to the text.  Why did the author write it?  
What is the author’s worldview?

2.If the author is writing on a debatable issue does he or she give proper consideration to all sides 
of the debate?  Does he or she seem to have a bias?

3.Research the author’s time (political history, intellectual history, economic history, etc.) 
and relate this information to the work.

4.Upon reading the text, how has your view on the given historical event changed?


Writings: Research Paper, Satire, The Definition Essay 

Visuals: American Luminism, American Still Life 

Speaking: “What It Really Means” Speech (Redefining an abstract concept)



Unit 4: To Live Together 

Focus The Jungleby Upton Sinclair, The Grapes of Wrathby John Stienbeck

Possible Readings: American Revolution Documents, Speeches, Excerpts from Philosophical Treatises, Founding Father Biography, Manifestos from all time periods, The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass  

Writings: Research Essay, Business Letter, Compare/Contrast Two Viewpoints about Man and the State, Deliberative Arguments about Potential Legislation, Classification Essay of Needs vs. Wants

Speaking: Point/Counter-Point

Socio-Economic Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for its socio-economic issues

Questions and Strategies: 

1.Explore the way different demographics are represented in texts.

2.What worldview does the text represent?

3.What does the text say about class structures?

4.Analyze the social effects of the text.




Third Quarter


Unit 5: Symbolic Acts                                                                                                Focus The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Beloved by Toni Morrison, (Metamorphosisby Franz Kafka,) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Heart of Darknessby Joseph Conrad, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger


Focus on New Criticism Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for the unity and complexity of its form. The focus should be on the text itself.

Questions and Strategies:

1.What types of symbolism are in the text?

2.What themes recur throughout the text?

3.Were the plot and subplots believable?

4.Where could the story go from here?

5.What did you think of the ending?

6.What is the great strength -- or most noticeable weakness – of the text?

7.Does the story fit an archetype?  (i.e. romance, tragedy, comedy, satire, irony). 
How do those “types” manifest themselves?


Possible Readings: Gothic/Romantic, Transcendental, Poe, Walden, selected poetry 

Writings: The Reflective Essay/ Procedural Writing, Poetry 

Visuals: Symbolist Movement, Neo-Classical Paintings, The Sublime , Heart ofMovement  

Speaking: Poetry Slams 


Unit 6: Broken Mirrors and Lost Dreams

Focus, Middlesex by Eugenis , Death of a Salesmanby Arthur Miller

Possible Additional Readings: Lost Generation Authors, Harlem Renaissance, Depression Writings, Modernism, A Farewell to Arms, Invisible Man, Fences, selected poetry 

Writings: Vignettes, Poetry, Visual Essays, Social Construction Assessment , Research Paper

Gender Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for its gender related issues or attitudes towards gender.  The assumption here is that men and women are different:  they write differently, read differently, and write about their reading differently.  These differences should be valued.

Questions and Strategies:

1.Consider the gender of the author and the characters: what role does gender play in the text?

2.Observe how gender stereotypes might be reinforced or undermined.  Try to see how the text reflects or distorts the place men or women have in society.

3.Imagine reading the text from the point of view of someone from the opposite gender.

Race Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for it issues of race, heritage, and ethnicity.

Questions and Strategies:

1.Analyze how the text discusses race, heritage, and ethnicity.  Or, consider what images of “others” are presented in the text.  How are these “others” portrayed?

2.Are there any unfair stereotypes?  Are there any generalities that hold truth?

3.Analyze the text for how it deals with cultural conflicts, particularly between majority and minority groups.

Visuals: Impressionism, Photography, Abstract Art, American Advertising 

Speaking: Poetry Slams, Formal Speeches


Unit 7: Hyper Reality

Focus  - Columbine by Dave Cullins, Devil in a White Cityby , Nine Stories  by J.D. Salinger and Death of A Salesman

Readings: Hypertext, Multimedia, Threads, Wikis

Writings: Synthesis Essay, Storify Article 

Visuals: World War II Cartoons, American Advertising, Political Cartoons

Speaking: Pitching/Proposals

Psychological Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for patterns in human behavior. While everyone’s formative history is different in particulars, there are basic recurrent patterns of development for most people.

Questions and Strategies:

1.Is the way the characters act believable?

2.Why do certain characters act the way they do?

3.Think of what is a general viewpoint on life for children, youth, young adult, middle-aged, 
or elderly people.  Do the characters follow the patterns associated with these groups?

4.Think of the range of human emotions.  How do they come to play in the text? 
(happiness, anger, depression, indifference, confusion, etc.)

5.What did you think of any moral/ethical choices that the characters made?  
What would you have done?

6.Think about the broader social issues the text attempts to address.

Spiritual Lens

Definition:  Reading a text for its spiritual and faith related issues

Questions and Strategies:

1.Analyze the text for its issues as they relate to one’s faith in a higher being.

2.Compare aspects of the text as they relate to religious writings/scriptures.

3.If one believes in a higher being or creator, how does that creator speak to the reader 
through the text?

4.What does the text say about various world religions?

5.What does the text say about faith? Grace?  Love?  Forgiveness? Hope?



Unit 8: Humor

Focus Gimpel the Foolby Isaac Bashevis Singer,  Waiting for Godotby Samuel Becket

Writing: Humorous passage

Visuals: Cartoons

Speaking: Joke telling - timing






















School of Life

What is Literature for?

It saves us time - reality simulator

It makes us nicer - teaches empathy

It is a cure for loneliness - there are people in the world who are a lot like me

It prepares us for failure - it is a kind of therapy

It stimulates our brains - literally

It enlarges and improves us



Your Brain on Fiction

Your Brain on Fiction


Published: March 17, 2012


AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.


Related in Opinion

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. 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.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, performed an analysis of 86 fMRI studies, published last year in the Annual Review of Psychology, and concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.

It is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television. (Dr. Mar has conjectured that because children often watch TV alone, but go to the movies with their parents, they may experience more “parent-children conversations about mental states” when it comes to films.)

Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have found themselves comparing a plucky young woman to Elizabeth Bennet or a tiresome pedant to Edward Casaubon. Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Annie Murphy Paul is the author, most recently, of “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 18, 2012, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Your Brain on Fiction.