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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: