6 Reasons You Should “Waste” Your Time Reading Fiction

A while back, I asked people to respond to the question “What Have You Enjoyed Reading Lately?” And, several people responded with some really good books. I’ve added a couple of them to my own reading list, so thanks for the suggestions.

photo by Paul Mayers

But, one thing that really stood out to me from the responses was the complete lack of fiction. In all the responses, not a single fiction title.

Now, I suppose that could be because some of you are students who long for the day when you’ll actually be able to choose your own books. So, you just don’t have time to read fiction. Or, maybe some felt that because this is a Th.M. blog, they should only list sufficiently academic books. And, since I posted this on a Saturday, it’s possible that those of you who do enjoy fiction were just out enjoying life while the more studious types were still hunched over their keyboards.

So, there could be many reasons for the non-fiction tilt of the responses. But, it did make me wonder if there’s still a sense that reading fiction is ultimately a waste of time – or, at least, significantly less valuable than reading real books. If so, here’s my best shot at offering 6 reasons that I think reading fiction is important.

  1. Fiction reveals truth. There’s something about a good story that reveals truth in ways that non-fiction cannot. Why do you think Jesus chose to tell so many stories? A good story makes us experience truth. Although non-fiction is great for conveying information, fiction can make that same information sink into our bones in powerful ways.
  2. Fiction strengthens the imagination. Ours is a pragmatic culture. As a result, we often fail to appreciate the importance of the imagination. At best, it’s a diversion. At worst, it distracts from real concerns and takes time away from what truly matters. But, imagination is the skill of seeing the world as it could be. And, when we’re facing a world ravaged by sin, what could be more important that the ability to see what could be?
  3. Fiction manifests beauty. Like any art form, good fiction has a unique ability to display beauty. The right combination of words, a powerful metaphor, a well-described scene, each of these uses the written word to display beauty in ways that no other art form can. And, although non-fiction has the same ability to manifest beauty through the written word, there’s something in the beauty of narrative that’s impossible to capture in any other medium. Soaking up a good story can be like watching a beautiful sunset – a reminder that there is still beauty in this broken world.
  4. Fiction expands horizons. We are storied beings; our stories define us. If you want to understand another person fully, you need to know his or her story. That’s one reason that biographies sell so well. They are a window into different world, a world other than my own. Fiction does the same. A good story draws us in, unveiling reality from a new perspective. For a short time, I can “become” a modern housewife, a 19th century slave, or something else dramatically removed from my own experience. Fiction expands my window on reality, letting me see reality through another’s eyes. And by drawing me in and making me part of the story, it reveals these new perspectives in ways that non-fiction typically doesn’t.
  5. Fiction makes better writers. One pragmatic issue to consider is that reading fiction makes you a better writer. Fiction authors use language differently than non-fiction writers. And, any good writer needs exposure to a variety of writing techniques. Indeed, I’d suggest that any writer should seek exposure to a wide range of literary genres – poetry, fiction, history, philosophy, religion, etc. Each reveals a new way of writing that can expand the tools available to the aspiring author. And, in this way, good fiction shapes good writers.
  6. Fiction is fun. It would be easy to conclude that merely being “fun” isn’t a good enough reason for reading fiction. Why not? Unless I’m missing something, God created us for both work and play. Each manifests his glory in unique ways. So, enjoying yourself is simply part of being who God has created you to be. And, reading good fiction is fun. Enjoy it.

Now, it’s important to realize that for all of this to work the fiction has to be good fiction. Reading trashy fiction still impacts us, but not necessarily in good ways. And, if what you read shapes what you write, then bad fiction produces bad writers (the writer’s version of “you are what you eat”). So, be aware of what you read. A trashy novel is like a candy bar; every now and then may be okay, but don’t make a steady diet of it.

If you want to reflect more on the importance of reading fiction, here are some other articles you might enjoy:


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 16, 2011, in Books & Literature, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I’m reading Fight Club right now. I know if you would qualify that as good or bad fiction but I’m really liking it.

    I just started to read fiction this year. I haven’t read much. Before “Fightclub” it was “Do Androids Dream…” and “Slaughterhouse 5”. As someone who has never cared for fiction I’ve really been enjoying it.

    • I would definitely consider Fight Club to be good fiction. And, I must say, for someone who’s just getting started on fiction, you’re making some great choices. Keep it up.

  2. I just finished “Citizen Vince” by Jess Walter and it was amazing. It’s a crime novel about a con in the witness protection program who has the mob, the feds and the cops after him one way or another, and how he realizes that now that he’s no longer a felon that he can vote for the first time in his life. He has to choose between Carter and Reagan. It’s beautifully written and is probably one of the best contemporary presentations on what redemption and new life actually means that I have ever read. I highly recommend it (if you don’t mind a bit of violence and language).

  3. Definitely agree with point number four but sometimes that can get tricky! For example, after a few days of immersion in “Watership Down” I began to think perhaps rabbits were right to e scared all the time. My friends did not appreciate my new “freeze and sniff the air wildly” response to external stimuli. ;D

  4. I’m fond of science fiction, myself, although I have very little time for reading it. I prefer a good movie for my doses of fiction. Of course good movies are in short supply. LOL. My favorite sci-fi is actually the reimagined Battlestar Galactica with Matrix as a not far behind second. Trek and Star Wars are okay, but to me the story, character development and foundational theme are what I look for – not eye popping effects. Matrix and BSG are two of the best examples I can think of.

  5. I TOTALLY AGREE! I alternate between fiction and other syles. I have been reading a lot of Dean Koontz. They are so much fun and inspire me in reader engagement styles.

  6. I enjoyed read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings set… I admit I need more fictional reading

    @Matt – thanks for letting Imaginary Jesus be free for Kindle for a while – I enjoyed reading it. laughed alot and thought hard about stuff.

  7. Brian, my pleasure. It was my publisher’s idea.

  8. Some more fiction recommendations:
    Cry, Beloved Country by Alan Paton
    End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  9. Yes, I believe my life is lacking the teachings of great fiction. I want fiction to give me insight into perception and thinking and provide the insight and wisdom missing from an ambivalent home.

    Can you please post a list of ‘fiction for beginners’?

    Last thing I read (and loved) was the Adventures of Cavelier and Clay (but it was just too long…I want shorter if I can.)

  1. Pingback: The 'Write' Way of Dealing with Psychology..? | Angie′s DIARY

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