It seems so noble to read biographies about the trials and victories of famous figures or to better ourselves by reading self-help books. Indulging in a romance or suspense novel, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like a particularly dignified use of time.
If, like me, you tend to believe this assumption that non-fiction is somehow superior to fiction, then I encourage you to consider the following.
Why it’s beneficial to read fiction
- It helps us learn how to think. When we read, our sole goal shouldn’t be to learn new facts and figures. We should also seek to learn how to think. Non-fiction is a great way to accomplish the former. However, fiction may have an edge over non-fiction when it comes to the latter. This is because it’s relatively easy to recite the facts and figures presented in non-fiction, but not so easy to interpret the information in works of fiction.
- It hones our social skills. We often stereotype bookworms as having their noses in books all of the time and being socially awkward. Believe it or not, research shows that the opposite is true. Individuals who read fiction score higher on measures of empathy and are better able to interpret the mental states of others.
- It teaches us about culture. Though works of fiction aren’t “true” stories, they contain a lot of truth. They give us glimpses of the real attitudes and ideas held by authors. Sometimes they give us glimpses of real settings and real people, too. We can learn a lot about the attitudes of the people who lived during a given era by reading fiction from that period. Sometimes fiction can even reveal truth in ways that non-fiction can’t. For example, consider how Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a fictional tale, impacted the abolitionist movement in ways that numerous non-fictional accounts of slavery could not.
- It permits us to learn from the experiences of others. There is much truth in the adage that experience is the best teacher. We’re able to experience numerous things vicariously when we read books. Even if these experiences are fictitious, we can learn and grow from them.
- It expands our vocabularies and makes us better writers. We learn new words by being exposed to them. Likewise, we become more creative writers when we’re exposed to new grammatical styles and forms of diction. There is no easier way to be exposed to these things than by reading a variety of genres (poetry, drama, satire, action, comics, etc.).
- It keeps our brains active. According to researchers, individuals who are cognitively active throughout life have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, frequent engagement in intellectually stimulating activities like reading can cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 33% (source).
- It is entertaining. Most of us read fiction because it is entertaining. This may seem like a trivial reason to read it compared to the other reasons mentioned here, but it’s not. God made us to work and to enjoy leisure (Exodus 20:8-11, Ecclesiastes 3). We’re supposed to rest and be refreshed. Reading is a great way to do this!
- It can change the world. Fictional stories have the power to change our lives. Why do you think Jesus used parables as he taught? We’re able to learn from these in ways we often can’t from true accounts. If you’re not convinced, then look into the impacts of the following:
As you can tell, the things we read have a significant impact on us. We should keep this in mind as we select reading materials so that we choose things that will change us in positive ways.
What are your favorite works of fiction? What genres capture your attention?