Why should we read Fiction?

Why should we read fiction? 

This is a question that I’ve been asked many times in life, usually by friends who don’t enjoy reading. However, this time an interviewer asked me to submit an essay on why everyone should read fiction. Just felt like it would make an interesting blog post.

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Perhaps by fate or coincidence, this is very similar to the question I typed into Google just a few days ago. Having spent upwards of ten years in my twenty-three years on this planet reading books, I get this question a lot. My pride and vanity force me to say I read all types of books and enjoy them equally, though the truth is that fiction is the love of my life. The more fictional, the better in my opinion. I could live for days in the realms of fantasy but a few minutes with my textbooks had tired me out.

 

‘Why so? What could you possibly gain from fiction? At least, reading non-fiction has some merit. You learn something from nonfiction’ people ask. I cannot speak for all, of course, but I read novels because they have taught me so much more than classes and textbooks ever did. As much as I loved my school life, education these days have become more about memorizing than learning. It is more about scores than merit or character. Therefore, just like a child learns morals and virtues through folklore and fairy tales, an adult learns empathy and compassion through fiction. It is the closest means of climbing into another person’s shoes, without literally wearing someone else’s footwear. For example, through Harry from The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling taught readers that friendship, loyalty, and bravery were more important than books and cleverness. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games taught people never to judge an individual based just on appearance. Along with Charlie from The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, I learned the importance of participating in life instead of standing by and watching everyone else live theirs. These are hard concepts to learn just by reading textbooks and sticking to facts.

 

Fiction also makes learning fun. It takes the tedious task of education and turns it into entertainment. Books like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has helped millions around the world understand the horror and the despair of the people during the World War 2 much better than history textbooks which focused on dates and statistics. Through The Martian by Andy Weir, people have a better understanding of space and astrophysics.

 

‘Movies do that too!’ some exclaim. I agree; they do provide a window into a person’s life. However, in films, we see the story happen to someone else. We are detached from the characters. They do not allow us to climb into the protagonist’s head. Readers get inside the character’s head. Sometimes, if it is a well-written book, they become the characters themselves. This is a power that fiction novels alone possess.

 


Let me know if any of you enjoy reading. What genres do you typically read and why? I’m actually curious to find out.

Fictional Encounters

For about half an hour now, I have been staring at the blank word document open on my computer screen, hoping for inspiration to strike and help me fill it with words. But to no avail. The river of words, seems to have dried up. Trying to write something new turned out more difficult than I anticipated.

My muse was of no help either. He didn’t even look like one. He could pass for a middle aged man; although a very attractive middle aged man, I have to admit. But that was not the problem. The problem was, he has been passing some very unhelpful and cryptic comments, like ‘if you need to ask, you shall never know.’ That makes me doubt whether he really was a muse. I mean, that was a direct quote from Harry Potter. Where was the imagination in that? Thank god he took offence at me zoning him out again, he left me alone.

‘Errrrrrgh!!!! This is pointless’ Pushing the laptop away, I decide to go get some food in my stomach. Some sustenance might help kick start my brain. Just as I was to reach the living room, the door bell rang.

Phoebus, the muse I mentioned earlier, and a short man, just about five feet four inches tall stood on the other side. The little man’s, smiling, egg shaped head was perched a little on one side and his mustache was a very stiff and military like, with an upward twist at the ends.

Wait a minute! I know that face from somewhere!

Phoebus, on the other hand looked very cheerful. What was he being so smug about? After all, he had done a shoddy job of inspiring me tonight.

“May we come in, Miss?” asked the little man.

Understanding the question in my eyes, Phoebus said “This is Hercule Poirot, Zena. The most famous detective of his age. Surely you must have heard of him” said Phoebus, still grinning like a kitten.

Heard of him! I had virtually adored that man all through my childhood. But he was a character in a book. Not someone you meet in real life, for goodness sake!

“But… but… you aren’t real.” I managed to exclaim. Shock had reduced me to stuttering. Not everyday did a man come up to my door, claiming to be one of the most beloved and fictional detectives of all times.

“I assure you miss, I am as real as you are.” The little man said in a haughty voice. Uh oh, guess I must have offended his pride or something.

“Okaaaay. Come in” I let the man enter and quickly shut the door.

“So what can I do for you, Mr. Poirot? May I offer you a drink?” I was hoping to win some brownie points by trying to be courteous.

“It’s not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you.” He said with a proud smile.

Oh great, another cryptic. Just what I needed. Could this day get any more worse?

“What can you do for me?”

“Use your little gray cells, Miss. I came here with your muse, so obviously I am here to help you. Just as Phoebus here, helped Ms. Christie create me.” Said Poirot, looking pointedly at the Muse.

“He helped create you? You mean he was Agatha Christie’s muse too.” If Phoebus had looked smug before, it was nothing to the way he was now.

Poirot gave a throaty chuckle before replying.

“He has been the inspiration for so many great creations, from works like the Iliad to me.” That was not pretentious at all.

“You must be really talented if he has chosen you in this century.”

“- or the one who desperately needs help” Phoebus said with cheeky wink at me.

“Ha ha, very funny, but you didn’t do a fat lot of good either, Mister. All you did was quote lines from famous books. How is that supposed to help? There are laws on plagiarism you know.” By now I was too annoyed because my patience with him was wearing thin. But all Phoebus did was flash me a wide grin.

“Calm down, young lady. That’s why he brought me. To help you.” Poirot settled himself down on a nearby sofa and continued “now, Phoebus here, tells me that I don’t have to teach you the art of writing itself, thank heavens, and it would do to just point you in a direction. I, personally, recommend writing a good mystery. Nothing gives the brain more exercise, than a puzzle to solve. Might I suggest a murder, for they have always fascinated me and tend to be more engrossing.”

“Nice idea. A murder happening in the middle of the night… seemingly without any witness except the dainty full moon… that’s sounds like a great start. Thank you Mr. Poirot.” I said, jumping up and down in excitement and giving him a huge hug.

“You’re welcome, Miss. It’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Goodbye then, young lady and see you next century, Phoebus.” He faded away after giving a courteous bow to both of us.

“I suppose I must thank you too.” I said, turning to face Phoebus.

“Don’t thank me yet, love. You are only at the beginning.” He said and vanished into thin air.

What’s that supposed to mean? Whatever. I’ve got my much needed story now. I better go write it down.

But a faint popping sound made me change course and go into the kitchen. Behind the table, stood a tall and thin man, in purple robes. His silver hair and beard was so long, it had to be tucked into his belt. But his most striking feature was his brilliant, soul-piercing blue eyes, twinkling behind half-moon glasses.

“Dumbledore!” I shout out. “You are still alive?” Great conversation starter, Zena. You are a genius, indeed.

“I shall never be gone. Not when there are people here, who still remember me.” He said with a smile. “Now I hear that you were stuck somewhere and needed help.”

“Oh. That. Well, Mr. Poirot gave me an idea to write a mystery and I was just about to get started. But what do you think Professor?” I ask, eager to know his opinion.

“Why not write about love, child? It’s the most beautiful and powerful thing in this world. It is also rarer than the rarest of jewels. Now, can I offer you a lemon drop” he rummaged his pockets and brought out two lemon drops.

“Thanks. “ Accepting the candy he gave, I asked “But Professor, I liked the idea of a murder mystery.” I was not ready to let go of the first useful idea to hit my brain tonight.

“Who knows, you might be able to combine the two.” Dumbledore said with a wink. “Now, it’s time for me to leave. Farewell.”

Before he could leave though, I couldn’t resist myself asking. “Professor one last thing. Was this all real or was it just in my head” he flashed me a smile before saying “You know the answer to that one.” And I closed my front door with a grin from ear to ear and headed off to my room to drop all those ideas suggested to me and write this instead.

Somewhere in the sky, Phoebus must have been sitting in his throne, smiling at yet another success of his.