Why you should read more fiction

There’s this idea that reading non-fiction is something you should do as an adult if you want to be regarded as intelligent- especially if it falls into the genre of professional development. I was told while still in college that I would be asked what books I read as part of job interviews, and should be able to come up with something on-trend.

I’ve read a lot of those books in the past couple of years. Overall, there’s been a good tidbit or two, but mostly I’ve found it’s the same advice regurgitated with a different frame work. People love to categorize themselves into arbitrary boxes, people love to think that with a couple minor tweaks of a routine that their whole lives will become massively improved, people like a good 5–10 step plan. These books know this, and use it to repackage the same advice over and over. The truth is there’s no magic secret to a perfect life- that doesn’t exist- and success not only depends on you, but also on a lot of fucking luck (and money, usually). Sometimes I think these books fall out of touch with reality, no matter how many studies they quote.

I think these types of books, and other non-fiction, have a place on everyone’s shelf. I would never suggest that anyone stop reading anything, especially if they feel it’s helpful or if it keeps them informed. I’d just like to point out that there’s more to reading than productivity tips and depressing reports about the current political climate.

When was the last time you read a good novel? Not since your last vacation? Not since high school? When was the last time you read a book because you wanted to, not because you felt you had to?

Fiction has gotten a bad rap as of late. At a certain point, after you grow out of YA, you’re supposed to move on and grow up. The only people who read fiction are sad cat ladies and librarians and privileged middle aged women in book clubs reading about depressing life stories. Fiction is almost as bad as watching TV, unless you’re reading “the classics” (whatever they are) over a bottle of nice wine.

I would recommend reading the classics over a bottle of nice wine, but, only the ones you feel like. Life is too short to read War and Peace just because an old white man once said you should.

It’s a universal truth that people like good stories — whatever ‘good’ may mean to them. We like hearing stories in part because we like listening to our own adventures. We imagine ourselves as the hero, surrounded by people just familiar enough to be real but strange enough to keep us interested, and we like to watch ourselves succeed. We like to think about how we really would have made it in that scenario. We like to be surprised and shocked and afraid and titillated without any risk of real danger. We like to be inspired to be a little more like the person we saw glimpses of, on another planet, or a long time ago, or sitting right next door.

Fiction allows us to believe in a world that’s impossible, to watch people we find relatable doing the impossible. It can’t be a waste of time to do that, while surrounded by what feels like impossible situations in the real world.

There’s also evidence that reading improves your brain function. It helps you focus, it raises your IQ, it helps your brain make new pathways which can help you find solutions and spark new ideas. It doesn’t matter what you read, it only matters that you do read. You may as well make it enjoyable.

Reading fiction, specifically, can also help you improve your sense of empathy. It can take you out of your own head, out of your own problems, and show you other sides and arguments and situations you may never have thought of on your own. Increasing your ability to empathize can help you strengthen relationships, manage people better, and reduce stress.

If it’s been a long time since you read a book you enjoyed, with no conceivable purpose other to enjoy it, it’s time to visit a library or used bookstore and reinvest in your imagination.