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Why I Read Fiction

This is a post I’ve written before in a few ways, but the question does keep coming up. “Why do you read fiction? Isn’t it a waste of time? Isn’t the ‘real world’ interesting enough?”

As I grow older, I’ve been more drawn to non-fiction. Not sure why, and I honestly don’t spend much time wondering why. I read what I read and then I read whatever’s next. I still read a lot of fiction, and I think it will always matter, because stories will always matter to me.

Consider this:

Suppose you tell me an inspiring story. “I need to tell you about something that happened to me.” And it galvanizes me.

I mean that it actually gets me to do something useful, or to make a change, or think about the world in a healthier way. My life improves because I take action.

A couple of weeks later you make a confession. “I made that story up.” Or maybe, “That’s something I read.” Or “It happened to someone else.” Or, gasp, “I read that story in a novel.” I wouldn’t pat you on the back for lying, but what I got out of the story wouldn’t change simply because it was an invented story. Results are results. If they are results I am happy about I couldn’t care less where they come from.

If you react to a story, the story can teach you something. If you react, there is something to learn from your reaction. Maybe it’s an epiphany, maybe it’s a mundane observation. But! Whether it is found in a novel, a novella, a short horror story, or the latest Pulitzer prize winning book of non-fiction, is largely irrelevant.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael LaRocca March 19, 2014, 2:00 pm

    Wasn’t it Stephen King who called fiction a lie that helps us see the truth?

    • Josh Hanagarne March 19, 2014, 6:26 pm

      Maybe! It’s been said many times in many ways, but sounds about right.

  • Jack March 20, 2014, 6:27 am

    From as far back as I remember, I would always say to adults, “Tell me a story!” I suspect some of us are born with the Story Gene will always gravitate towards stories. Lucky us.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 20, 2014, 10:49 am

      indeed. Max and I have a storytelling contest every day. He’s six. It’s my favorite part of the day.

  • Boris Bachmann March 20, 2014, 8:11 pm

    I don’t get people who can’t enjoy fiction.

    I know a few ridiculously successful people in science and engineering fields – they all were voracious SF readers when they were younger. I think there is something to that.

  • evelyneholingue March 20, 2014, 9:16 pm

    Many things can be a waste of time but reading? Never. Fiction is my favorite genre but some memoirs can be pretty captivating too (hint hint).