Why Read Fiction?

I’ve known at least one guy who just doesn’t read fiction.

This particular guy is an incredibly smart man. He’s a student of mathematics and physics, having formerly been employed by Boeing. But he plainly told me that he does not read fiction, preferring to instead read books on those areas of expertise.

Being a “Live and let live” type of person, I am happy to let my acquaintance read about mathematics and physics to his heart’s content. However, I am left wondering just how many educated, employed, successful persons share this view, that reading fiction is a waste of time that is better spent “learning” about “practical” subjects.

I instead assert that reading fiction is good both as a means of recreation and as a way to sharpen the imagination.

As children, we are encouraged to read, at least I was, and I was of course drawn to fantasy. I remember being curled up on the sofa for hours on end, absorbed in a Redwall book. I often found myself cajoling my dad into journeying to the nearest Barnes & Noble so I could use my hard-earned lawn mowing revenue to purchase the latest Bionicle pulp novel.

But as I got older, especially in recent years, I began to read fiction less and less. I had important things to do, like reading books on history, politics, economics, business, and theology.

I enjoy all of these subjects thoroughly, but I found myself seldom reading prose fiction. I was instead drawn to comic books and graphic novels, fine stuff in their own way, but not quite the same.

Before this year, I can remember reading two fiction books within the last three years: The Book Thief and Ender’s Game. Both were remarkable books, and I got such a thrill out of reading them from cover to cover. Ender’s Game blew my mind and The Book Thief made me genuinely  sad. But I soon was back to business as usual.

Eventually, out of some fervent desire to get back to what I was missing, I finally cracked. I picked up an old, dusty copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and sat down and read it in two days.

Up to this point I had rigidly been abiding by a complicated series of reading lists, where I just had to read these books in that order, never mind what I actually wanted to read at any given time.

But emboldened by my sudden, out-of-the-blue reading choice, I checked out 1984 by George Orwell from the library. Thus began the transformation. 1984 was an absolutely thrilling novel, and the only one to actually scare me in years. I swear I jumped in my seat while reading the thing during a ten-minute break in the Burger King break room.

I began listening to fiction audio books on my phone on the walk home, including The Iliad and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I balanced these out with works of non-fiction, but the course was set. I was now consuming real, prose fiction again!

I have just finished reading The Pilgrim’s Progress for the first time all the way through. Now I’m happily rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, a remarkable work of epistolary satire. I hope to read a comic book next, just to spice things up, though I hope to continue on my fiction streak after that.

I’ve found that since deciding to make a concentrated effort to read more fiction, my creativity and critical thinking skills have improved fantastically. I feel I can solve problems more quickly, more easily overcome obstacles at work, and more effectively engage in problem solving.

To summarize, reading fiction is not only fun, but also useful for expanding the imagination and encouraging innovative and ingenious thought. If I can’t find a solution to that marketing problem at work, I’m bound to have something brewing the next day after having spent the evening reading.

Without imagination, there is no ingenuity. Without fiction, there is no imagination. Therefore, I will read fiction.

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