“Why do you read fiction?”

source: vanityfair.com

“So, why do you read fiction?” a friend asks me. He personally prefers non-fiction because he feels it has more to teach him about life. He admits to not understanding the allure of a fictional world; it seems frivolous, wasteful, pointless, and he’s asking me the question out of genuine interest and curiosity.

I sit beside him, slightly stunned by the question because I can’t imagine a world without fiction. Novels have been my life since I started reading. L.M. Montgomery, the Narnia books, Little House on the Prairie, and countless historical fiction novels were my faithful companions. I read Margaret Laurence at twelve, War and Peace at thirteen, A Fine Balance at fourteen. I had no concept of what was suitable for a certain age; all I wanted was to devour words, imaginary places and accompanying scenarios. I’m sure I often missed the bigger ‘point’ of a book, but that didn’t matter; if there was enough of a story thread to grasp, I was there to grasp it. A life without fiction, dare I say, is almost a life not worth living! (Ok, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but it’s to make a point.) I felt put on the spot, trying to analyze my motives for reading in a few split seconds.

Fiction is educational, too. Perhaps not in the same way that non-fiction is instructive and detailed, but fiction allows people to spin and develop hypothetical situations and imaginary events that otherwise might not occur. These challenge our minds, get us thinking about things we wouldn’t otherwise.

Reading fiction allows us to reconstruct the past. Historical facts take on a new energy when shaped into a story. Sure, maybe the details aren’t all accurate, but if a novel can get people excited about a certain period, there’s no telling where that can lead. Great novels are themselves history incarnate. Books like Boccaccio’s Decameron, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses are tangible pieces of history that have been handed down from all different eras, each of which offers us a tantalizing glimpse of what life was like then.

Fiction allows for imagination. I’m a bit of a dreamer, and there is nothing as satisfying as getting lost in a fictional world, travelling vicariously through the pages of a book, getting to know exotic places through the eyes of a character. We live in an era that’s obsessed with depicting everything perfectly, from scientific discoveries to the news. Facts must be detailed, supported, cited. In a novel, there’s none of that; I hold all the control over how I want a place to look because it exists only in my mind.

Fiction is also an art form. The creativity that is required to think up a story line and run with it, thinking up all the intricate, complex connections, is impressive. I think non-fiction, by comparison, is easier to write because the writer uses predetermined facts and research, not having to invent her own. (I’m sure that could be disputed.)”

I don’t know if my answer will convert him to reading fiction, but I’m glad he asked. Forcing me to think about and articulate my love of fiction resulted in solidifying that love more than ever. I believe that fiction is crucially important to the development and education of humans, and needs to be given the respect and attention it deserves.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Why do you read fiction?


6 thoughts on ““Why do you read fiction?”

  1. Bravo for fiction! Your description of growing up with reading is exactly my own. When I was 12 or so, I read everything I could, but mostly loved books that transported me into a different world – even if I didn’t ‘understand’ the work itself. In fact, I think I lost some of that love for reading when I got into college and felt like I was expected to interpret fiction in a certain way—the ‘right’ way. It was intimidating! But, I soon got over it and went back to my instinctual approach to reading, (and all other arts).
    btw – If you love fiction – and you obviously love writing – I highly recommend writing fiction, if you’ve never tried it! I tried it myself for the first time last year. Talk about being immersed and transported! It was like living in a different world for a while. Very cool!

    1. I know it’s been weeks since you wrote this comment, but I can’t stop thinking about your suggestion to try writing fiction. It’s been haunting me because you said exactly what I’ve been thinking but don’t have the courage to do! I’m dying to write fiction, but I can’t seem to come up with any plots. Maybe I just need to start writing and it will come… I’m wishing I’d signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, but too late now. Anyways, your suggestion will likely continue to whisper in the back of my head until I sit down and start creating, inventing, imagining, and then it’ll be great and I’ll say, “It’s all because of Denise!”

  2. I read fiction because made up stories matter…
    The Author’s Note at the beginning of John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars states:
    “This is not so much an author’s note as an authors reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up. Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

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