Why we should read more fiction

I grew up with a lot of books and a lot of fiction in my house. Be it Gulliver’s Travels, The Panchatantra, ACK’s Mahabharata, I went through the usual books quicker than my parents could buy me new books. Growing up in an academic campus, reading was encouraged and my parents nudged me just the right amount into reading.

I made so many friends and enjoyed most book related events in life. The Scholastic Book Fairs in school, the train trips which always meant picking up a Tinkle Digest at the railway station, reading my books before the academic year started, I loved it all. Reading also brought me into the one thing I relished the most in school – quizzing.

Becoming a good quizzer and being thought of as the smart kid meant a few things – knowing things, readings serious stuff – be it newspapers, magazines, or non-fiction, I wanted to do all of it.

Of course, learning new things was so much fun, and I got into reading books which were advanced for my age, be it on politics, news, or whatever. I enjoyed it, no doubt. But it led me to reading more non-fiction and ‘serious’ books, at the cost of fiction.

Over the last 7-8 years, this almost became an obsession, with me thinking that reading fiction was a waste of time and I should read non-fiction and improve myself. However, I think that line of thinking was faulty. Here is why I think we should read more fiction:

  1. Fiction makes abstract ideas concrete.
    • When we read non-fiction, we often learn things in the abstract. But reading fiction moves from abstract information to concrete stories. While knowing the causes of the 2008 Wall Street crash are great, feeling the pains of a family thrown out due to a calamity humanises history and forces to think deeper.
    • There is a limit to the amount of information we can store in our heads and having concrete stories into which we can fit our worldview makes it easier for us to navigate a complex world.
  2. Fiction helps you visualise.
    • We are a rationalising and not a rational species. We need to find reasons to fit our perception of the world and not the other way around. Fiction helps us make sense of the world.
    • Immersive worlds created by fiction lets us imagine and perceive something that does not actually exist. This helps us how to visualise and picture things, while either planning for the future or analysing the way in which the world and our lives could change.
  3. Fiction teaches you story-telling as an artwork.
    • The most valuable skill in today’s market is perhaps the ability to sell a good story. Be it elections, getting VC funding, or convincing your friends to go to your favourite restaurants, it is not the force of your arguments, but how convincing your story is, that makes people side with you.
    • It is fiction which could tell you that a rich spoiled orphan playing dress-up and punching people was not the hero we deserved, but the one we need right now.

I do not mean to take away from the value of reading non-fiction, but there is a lot of value in fiction that we often tend to dismiss for not being scientific, educative, or for being too emotional and unreal.

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