“I don’t really read fiction.”
“Fiction is a waste of time.”
“Why read fiction? It’s all just made up.”
Real live adults have said these sentences to me, and it is so sad. They are missing out on so much. Maybe you find yourself resonating with them. I promise I will neither insult your judgment nor attack your opinions. Arguing someone into reading fiction won’t work and badgering people to do anything is counter-productive. So consider this an invitation to try something. Maybe, just maybe, you can be persuaded to test out a novel or two you’d never considered before.
Here are six reasons why you should read fiction and why it’s not a waste of time.
Fiction can be profoundly true.
We often think in categories of “facts” and “fiction” as if the first is truth and the latter is false. In reality, though, facts are tools in an author’s hands and can be used or misused. They can be manipulated or mislead. Non-fiction is a genre; it’s not synonymous with truth. Truth is so much greater than a collection of facts—so great, in fact, that we often need imagination to depict it well. Fiction is a story, and stories can represent a reality that is truer and better than any fact. Fiction can display things as they ought to be and as our souls yearn for them to be. Facts may state what is but stories can tell what should be.
Fiction engages the imagination.
Lest you think that, upon your entering adulthood, imagination was locked in the nursery with the fairies, unicorns, wizards, and goblins consider this: imagination is where every good idea comes from. Every idea of how to grow a business, every idea of how to be a better parent or spouse, every idea of what to do with your life—all imaginative. Even (especially) ideas about who God is and what He is like are fueled by imagination, and that imagination is fueled by great stories. Fiction works out “brain muscles” that would otherwise atrophy. It opens new horizons to us in this world and worlds we never could have considered otherwise. Through stories we begin to think and see differently so that we discover different sorts of possibilities than we ever otherwise might have.
Fiction increases our curiosity.
Imagination is the ignition for curiosity because imagination fires the engine of discovery and curiosity drives it. The ability to see differently, to consider new perspectives and possibilities, leads to new ideas and connections. Every time we make such a connection it is an opportunity for even more. Curiosity is the drive and intentional exploration of these. When we read great stories our minds and hearts are stirred, and curiosity is moved to action—in real life. We don’t leave the wonder of the story on the page when we return to our work or our families. Our curiosity goes with us.
Fiction shows us virtue.
Non-fiction tells us what we should think or believe or do. Stories show us. They teach by example. There is a reason why villains are despicable and heroes are sympathetic—one lacks virtue and the other has it in spades. Why else would we care if a character died or if the bad guy won? We care because good stories show us the truth that evil is evil and good is good and we should be on the side of the latter. We resonate with noble characters who are brave and kind and loyal and trustworthy and humble. We love flawed heroes because they are like us, but we want them to be heroes so that we know we could be brave or strong or sacrificial too.
Fiction is full of facts.
I learned the geography of Los Angeles from detective Harry Bosch. I learned about the battle of Gettysburg from Michael Shaara. I learned about the life of slaves in the American South from Alex Haley. I learned about fighting in the Jungles of Vietnam from Karl Marlantes. Each of these authors wrote fiction, but they did so with a proper setting and characters that elucidated facts about place and time and happenings. Sure, you won’t find many facts in Middle Earth or in Panem, but certain genres will draw you into their very real world and give you glimpses of reality as you follow the heroes and villains around the stories.
Fiction is fun.
I feel like I buried the lede with this one. This might be the best reason to read fiction, and it’s certainly the most compelling. Stories are fun. Stories make sitting on a back deck or a beach more enjoyable, and they make plane rides shorter. Stories can be shared with our kids or book clubs, multiplying the fun. Stories can be read to us from our car speakers while we drive across the country or from our stereos while we make dinner or fold laundry. Stories really do make just about everything better.