Why Read Fiction?
My name is Robert, and I used to be a nonfiction snob. Oh, you know the type.
You’ve heard them say things like this: “Fiction books are just a waste of time” or “You can’t learn anything from fiction,” or “I don’t have time for fiction” or they label it as escapism. You’ve heard all the nonsense before. They treat all novels like they are flimsy romances you can pick up on a shelf at Kroger.
That’s sad….really, really sad. Up until the last few years, nonfiction books were the only books I would buy. I play a writer at my day job, and I get paid to write nonfiction articles. So if I was making time to read, I wanted to read other writers in my genre.
I’ve written one fiction short story in my life, and it sucked—at least that’s what my creative writing professor said. Actually, he said it was clichéd, which is probably worse than “sucked.” But that’s neither here nor there.
All that to say I’ve obviously changed my mind about fiction. Maybe I had reached the point of nonfiction burnout, simply because so much of nonfiction is the same thing over and over. How many self-help books with the same five principles said in a different way do we really need?
First off, and I’ve mentioned this in a prior post about why reading is important, think about a few great writers. Who comes to mind? For me, it’s fiction writers. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Orwell, Joyce, C.S. Lewis. The list goes on.
There’s so much to learn from these guys. How cool is it to think that we can pick up a book and read words that came out of the minds of the greatest writers who ever existed? Only the most naïve person would say that we can’t learn something from that.
There’s something inspiring about how these writers take nothing and make something out of it—characters, locales, plotlines, settings. The creativity involved in that, to me, is astounding.
Anyone who works in a creative field—whether it’s writing, graphic design, culinary arts, etc—really needs to dive into the great fiction books. For me, it’s inspiring and really gets my creative juices flowing.
Fiction novels—the good ones—teach us about ourselves. Fiction is just a study of the human condition. I learn about myself. With every story I read, I’m sitting right there in the seat of the protagonist. How would I handle that situation?
Would I have turned on my brothers and sisters like Edmund did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Would I have had more of a backbone then Augustus did in I, Claudius? Could I have made the same principled stand that Atticus did in To Kill A Mockingbird?
Are fiction novels the end-all-be-all source of life lessons? Of course not. A lot of fiction is crap…just like a lot of nonfiction is crap. The point is that both genres teach, and they do so in very different ways.
Nonfiction is like the teacher who tells you exactly what’s going to be covered on the test. Fiction is like the teacher who says, “You’ve got all the lecture notes. You figure it out.”
I like the mystery. I like thinking a little harder and trying to see how a story applies to my life. Sure, I can do that with a biography or a nonfiction book. But there’ s something about a fiction book that stretches my mind in a way that nonfiction can’t match.
So, the next time a nonfiction snob tells you that you are wasting your time, give them a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird or Animal Farm or Invisible Man or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–and, if they still think you are wasting your time, then pat ‘em on the butt and send ‘em on their way.
Some nonfiction snobs are hopeless. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them.