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.
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.