6 Reasons You Should “Waste” Your Time Reading Fiction

A while back, I asked people to answer the question “What Have You Enjoyed Reading Lately?” And several people responded with some really good books. I’ve added a couple of them to my own reading list, so thanks for the suggestions.

creativity, creative, colors, painting

photo by Paul Mayers

But one thing that really stood out to me from the responses was the complete lack of fiction. In all the responses, not a single fiction title.

Now I suppose that could be because some of you are students who long for the day when you’ll actually be able to choose your own books. So you just don’t have time to read fiction. Or maybe some felt that because I’m a professor, they should only list sufficiently academic books. And, since I posted this on a Saturday, it’s possible that those of you who do enjoy fiction were just out enjoying life while the more studious types were still hunched over their keyboards.

So there could be many reasons for the non-fiction tilt of the responses. But it did make me wonder if there’s still a sense that reading fiction is ultimately a waste of time – or, at least, significantly less valuable than reading real books. If so, here’s my best shot at offering 6 reasons that I think reading fiction is important.

  1. Fiction reveals truth. There’s something about a good story that reveals truth in ways that non-fiction cannot. Why do you think Jesus chose to tell so many stories? A good story makes us experience truth. Although non-fiction is great for conveying information, fiction can make that same information sink into our bones in powerful ways.
  2. Fiction strengthens the imagination. Ours is a pragmatic culture. As a result, we often fail to appreciate the importance of the imagination. At best, it’s a diversion. At worst, it distracts from real concerns and takes time away from what truly matters. But imagination is the skill of seeing the world as it could be. And, when we’re facing a world ravaged by sin, what could be more important that the ability to see what could be?
  3. Fiction manifests beauty. Like any art form, good fiction has a unique ability to display beauty. The right combination of words, a powerful metaphor, a well-described scene, each of these uses the written word to display beauty in ways that no other art form can. And, although non-fiction has the same ability to manifest beauty through the written word, there’s something in the beauty of narrative that’s impossible to capture in any other medium. Soaking up a good story can be like watching a beautiful sunset – a reminder that there is still beauty in this broken world.
  4. Fiction expands horizons. We are storied beings; our stories define us. If you want to understand another person fully, you need to know his or her story. That’s one reason that biographies sell so well. They are a window into different world, a world other than my own. Fiction does the same. A good story draws us in, unveiling reality from a new perspective. For a short time, I can “become” a modern housewife, a 19th century slave, or something else dramatically removed from my own experience. Fiction expands my window on reality, letting me see reality through another’s eyes. And by drawing me in and making me part of the story, it reveals these new perspectives in ways that non-fiction typically doesn’t.
  5. Fiction makes better writers. One pragmatic issue to consider is that reading fiction makes you a better writer. Fiction authors use language differently than non-fiction writers. And any good writer needs exposure to a variety of writing techniques. Indeed, I’d suggest that any writer should seek exposure to a wide range of literary genres – poetry, fiction, history, philosophy, religion, etc. Each reveals a new way of writing that can expand the tools available to the aspiring author. And, in this way, good fiction shapes good writers.
  6. Fiction is fun. It would be easy to conclude that merely being “fun” isn’t a good enough reason for reading fiction. Why not? Unless I’m missing something, God created us for both work and play. Each manifests his glory in unique ways. So enjoying yourself is simply part of being who God has created you to be. And reading good fiction is fun. Enjoy it.

Now it’s important to realize that for all of this to work the fiction has to be good fiction. Reading trashy fiction still impacts us, but not necessarily in good ways. And, if what you read shapes what you write, then bad fiction produces bad writers (the writer’s version of “you are what you eat”). So be aware of what you read. A trashy novel is like a candy bar; every now and then may be okay, but don’t make a steady diet of it.

If you want to reflect more on the importance of reading fiction, here are some other articles you might enjoy:



23 Responses to “6 Reasons You Should “Waste” Your Time Reading Fiction”

  1. El Bryan Libre May 16, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    I’m reading Fight Club right now. I know if you would qualify that as good or bad fiction but I’m really liking it.

    I just started to read fiction this year. I haven’t read much. Before “Fightclub” it was “Do Androids Dream…” and “Slaughterhouse 5”. As someone who has never cared for fiction I’ve really been enjoying it.

    • Marc Cortez May 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      I would definitely consider Fight Club to be good fiction. And, I must say, for someone who’s just getting started on fiction, you’re making some great choices. Keep it up.

  2. Matt Mikalatos May 16, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    I just finished “Citizen Vince” by Jess Walter and it was amazing. It’s a crime novel about a con in the witness protection program who has the mob, the feds and the cops after him one way or another, and how he realizes that now that he’s no longer a felon that he can vote for the first time in his life. He has to choose between Carter and Reagan. It’s beautifully written and is probably one of the best contemporary presentations on what redemption and new life actually means that I have ever read. I highly recommend it (if you don’t mind a bit of violence and language).

  3. Amy Lewis May 16, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Definitely agree with point number four but sometimes that can get tricky! For example, after a few days of immersion in “Watership Down” I began to think perhaps rabbits were right to e scared all the time. My friends did not appreciate my new “freeze and sniff the air wildly” response to external stimuli. ;D

    • Marc Cortez May 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

      Nice! :-)

  4. Lance Ponder May 16, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    I’m fond of science fiction, myself, although I have very little time for reading it. I prefer a good movie for my doses of fiction. Of course good movies are in short supply. LOL. My favorite sci-fi is actually the reimagined Battlestar Galactica with Matrix as a not far behind second. Trek and Star Wars are okay, but to me the story, character development and foundational theme are what I look for – not eye popping effects. Matrix and BSG are two of the best examples I can think of.

  5. Ashley S.C. Walls May 16, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I TOTALLY AGREE! I alternate between fiction and other syles. I have been reading a lot of Dean Koontz. They are so much fun and inspire me in reader engagement styles.

  6. Brian May 16, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I enjoyed read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings set… I admit I need more fictional reading

    @Matt – thanks for letting Imaginary Jesus be free for Kindle for a while – I enjoyed reading it. laughed alot and thought hard about stuff.

  7. Matt Mikalatos May 18, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    Brian, my pleasure. It was my publisher’s idea.

  8. snacks from the cruise buffet May 21, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    Some more fiction recommendations:
    Cry, Beloved Country by Alan Paton
    End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  9. tioedong February 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    most of the blurbs about fiction released recently seem to praise bellybutton gazing rich yuppies or about poor people who are dysfunctional (preferably gay and drug addicted) and have little or nothing in common with the poor people I actually know.

    Maybe when fiction starts being about human beings I’ll go back to reading it.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll stick to fantasy/scifi, romance, detective novels, and non-fiction.

    • Marc Cortez February 23, 2012 at 6:38 am #

      YOu might to dig around a bit more. There really is some good stuff out there, though I have to say that I enjoy fantasy/scifi as well.

      • kate marie January 26, 2013 at 11:24 am #

        Hello I’m Kate I LOOOOVE reading I like fiction because u can express ur imagination its amazing how far u can get by reading a book what books do u read????

  10. Nolan Livingston September 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Nolan Livingston
    Fiction strengthens imagination. It does this through the joy that unleashes the dreams of other writers. Also, fiction is enjoyable. People can tell others what they believe through stories, just like Walt Disney did. He said “live out your dreams.” I say you should follow what your heart and brain says. Fiction is not always focusing on things that aren’t real. We should listen to stuff that is important but that does not mean we should give up on our imagination. If we don’t use our imagination, then we will not have the pleasure to enjoy fiction. Also, we cannot follow our dreams. We sometimes need a break from real life to be happy. That is why fiction is a wonderful thing and we all must treasure it.

  11. Layela September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    My name is Layela. I’m 24.
    I’m from India.
    I want to say i’d never read a novel until today. My English is not so good so i was not much of a reader.
    Usually, i would prefer to just watch a movie(if there is any) instead of reading the whole novel about the subject but I’m glad i managed to finish ‘The fault in our stars’ in 2 days. Yes i was glued to it till i was done.
    Now i’ve grown some sort of fetish for reading books that is how i bumped into your blog.
    I’m looking forward to read ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ now.

    I needed a little favor from you.
    Suggest me some good novels which are easy to understand and interesting as hell so that this newly found reading habit of mine never fades away.

    Thank You. :)

    PS: I like sad endings or anything that takes me in that nostalgic phase for days after ending the book.


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