Why read fiction? Here is your answer.

Fiction pieces stacked one on another with a caption that says 'Why read fiction? Here is your answer.'

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein

From obvious to not so obvious, from leisure to becoming smarter, here are your reasons to why should I or anyone read fiction.

Escape from the ordinary

Fictional stories and its characters offer a getaway for readers from their routine. After all, who doesn’t want to lose themselves in beauty of mountains, in a different continent or in a completely different world. By escape, I don’t necessarily mean the physical reality of someone’s life, but also mental and emotional reality. These imaginative stories let you pause the hustle and bustle of a city life and dive into someone else’s life.

Sometimes, losing yourself in a book and letting your mind wander away from your wonted routine or ennui of your current reality is exactly what your brain needs, says psychology. This can help relieve stress and let your mind relax. This suggests that no matter how negatively the connotation of the word ‘escapist fiction’ is perceived, it is still a healthy practice to read it. With all the emotional value that this habit has to offer, reading about characters that maybe going through similar problems as of the readers can often lend structure and rationality.

Norwegian psychologist Frode Stenseng segregates escapism into two categories – self-suppression and self-expansion. Taken that the reader uses fiction as a healthy motivation to seek escape from their current reality, the outcome will be self-expansion. English author Neil Gaiman shares similar views by denouncing the general opinion of people who think of escapist fiction as some kind of “cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded”.

John Waters says in Role Models

You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter!

Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behaviour, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”

Finding Companionship through Unhappy Times

When people are not enough, the noise of the city does not suffice, and reader gets a bit (or a lot more than that) lonely, they turn to the books.

It is not said for nothing that books are your best friends. They are always there for you, unconditionally. The kind of intimacy that one can find in books is inimitable. A person who does not read might find it a bit bizarre or even irrational, but that does not change the way how avid readers feel about the relation between them and their books.

A small example of this kind of effect on readers is how non-readers resonate with quotations. Be it Millionaire quotes or life-changing literature quotes, the reader will develop an understanding between themselves and the saying. Suddenly, the quotation will feel like an echo of their own life and ideology. When readers see others agreeing to the same ideas as them, they feel less lonely.

This is the kind of companionship that fiction-readers find in their books. It tells the reader that there are others that are going through similar problems or feel the same way as the reader does. Thus, reading fiction is an act of tender revelations and finding companionship.

Psychologists have long been suggesting at the therapeutic power of literature. Several organisations, such as The Reading Agency,, compile selective books with an aim to help readers worldwide in healing anxiety, depression and stress.

William Nicholson, in the book Shadowlands writes,

“We read to know we’re not alone.”

For a Fresher Perspective

Many readers seek fresh perspective. Seeing the world from the eyes of a character or the narrator, lets the reader see the same reality, same people with a different lens. A bigger fictional world can make your real world seem small.  Dealing with your problems become easier because suddenly they seem inconsequential. After all, what is getting a big F on the math paper when the aliens are attacking? Or what is less salary when compared to dealing with cancer?

Gaining new perspective also encourages love and harmony in the mind of readers. It makes dropping and discarding long carried limited belief easily. Feel unimportant? How about that character in your favourite book who was bullied yet went on to become a successful actor? Hate gay couples? How about that gay couple in your last read who pulled off a fantastic love story? Malec anyone?

German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” French critic, journalist, and novelist Alphonse Karr shared his views on perspective through his book A Tour Around the Garden,

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

Fiction Elicits Emotions and Empathy

Now what kind of benefit is that? An important one, say psychologists and I second them.

Readers, when engaged in reading, get emotionally involved with the story and characters of that book. They begin looking at things from the character’s point of view and step in their shoes. They are as good as the part of that story. The effect is similar and as intense as reading a non-fiction. In fact, studies show that fiction influence empathy to a greater extent as compared to non-fiction diaries. That is because the fiction does not follow the reader into real life, thus not requiring any self-protection on reader’s side, says Goldstein. In this case, the reader freely and strongly empathizes with character(s) of the story.

Author and professor Keith Oatley shares similar views.

Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian that states Keith Oatley’s beliefs.

“I think the reason fiction but not non-fiction has the effect of improving empathy is because fiction is primarily about selves interacting with other selves in the social world,” says Oatley, “In fiction, also, we are able to understand characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have. And it turns out that psychologically there is a big difference between these two points of view. We usually take the exterior view of others, but that’s too limited.”

A good fictional story that explores unknown paradigms will run deeper in the realms of philosophy and reasoning. It lets the reader step into the shoes of a dog, a 50-year-old, or a cancer patient. It also lets the reader be a drug addict and criminal. Henceforth, it won’t be wrong to say that fiction not only influences empathy but, also helps the readers understand other people’s perspectives. Fiction makes them look at the world in entirely different light.

“All good books have one thing in common — they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you’ve read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people, and the weather.”  – Ernest Hemingway

Fiction Helps Sleep Better

According to Dr. David Lewis, a 6-minute read in the evening or prior to the bedtime provides disengagement from life’s hustle-bustle and reduces stress for up to 68%.. This disengagement relaxes the brain and helps the reader get a sound sleep.

This might also be the reason, why most influential people and business persons read regularly. This maybe helping them get a healthy break from work and the much-needed sleep to wake up all fresh the next morning.

Serial optimizer Tim Ferriss suggests in one of his blogs about 5 hacks to relax and sleep like a pro,

“Do not read non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation/planning. Read fiction that engages the imagination and demands present-state attention.”

He even recommends the readers to read Motherless Brooklyn and Stranger in a Strange Land for a relaxing sleep.

Many readers choose to read at night. It is quite and renders no distractions, letting the reader lose themselves in the story.

PS – A book might still be too interesting that the reader wouldn’t want to sleep. But, upon the accomplishment of finishing the book, he/she is ought to sleep soundly.

According to Russian-American novelist and author of the famous novel Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

“Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.”

Amplifies Your Inner Creativity

Gather around me hearties!

Reading fiction brings you all sorts of realities, fantasies, and unlimit your imagination to create just anything. It teaches the readers different interpretations for the same line. This allows fresher ideas to flow to the reader. The reader can forge these ideas to write a novel, a short story, or a poem. They can also paint, draw, or sketch. There is no end to imagining what fresh ideas may become.

Fiction is full of what if’s. Several possibilities and ideas can be found scattered all over fictional stories. If it weren’t for the creative possibilities and wildest imaginations, pieces like 1984 by George Orwell and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown wouldn’t exist.

Reading fiction cultivates creativity just like a melancholic piano composition and Picasso’s paintings will encourage artists to create an imaginative piece.

Imagination and creativity also influences a person’s cognitive skills.

Reading Changes Reader’s Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is defined by our ability to ascribe mental states such as emotions, knowledge, beliefs, and so on to ourselves and others. This is also the ability to understand that others’ desires, emotions, and intents aka Theory of Mind might differ from ours. This harmonic acknowledgement of differences let us model others’ mind in our own to speculate what and how others think.

This ability might seem easy but is hard to develop in day to day life. Critical to human interaction, this ability is vital in business. It gives you quick intimations when someone tries to deceive you by reading their body language, expressions, and choice of words.

Reading fiction actively improves your Theory of Mind. It lights up the parts of brain that is responsible for this cognition. Theory of Mind is influenced when the reader is gauging at the character’s emotional state from non-conversational or visual hints. This skill of guessing at the feelings, their next move, assumed future decisions, and motivations helps the reader later in dealing with real people and improving relationships with them.

Other Popular Benefits of Reading Fiction

  • It increases vocabulary
  • It is a healthy source of entertainment that makes reader happy
  • Reading boosts self-confidence
  • It enhances reader’s decision-making skills
  • It cultivates optimism by telling no obstacle is unconquerable
  • Helps you discover yourself by evoking true emotions

Conclusion:

If I were to sum this article up in 4 words, they’ll be “Fiction changes your world.”

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” – J.R.R Tolkien

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