A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. - George R. R. Martin
I love reading.
To those of you who know me, this probably does not come as a surprise. Ever since I started memorizing the" Lil' Critter" book series by Mercer Mayer (which my parents repeatedly read aloud to me) I began devouring all the books I could get my hands on.
Going to the public library was my idea of a good time, and I was always thrilled by the latest arrival of the Scholastic book order catalog when I was in grade school. The accumulation of AR (accelerated reader) points in grades three through five was an added bonus to the past time I would have gladly participated in anyways.
During the past couple of years, I have been busier, or at least more distracted than I was in my younger (idyllic, I like to say) years. The causes for this are another story entirely. Something else I have noticed is that I'm reading less fiction than I used to. For example, I'm currently reading "Creativity, Inc" (about Pixar's rise to prominence) and just finished "Love Does" by Bob Goff.
These non-fiction writings have contained wise and inspiring words, and I have enjoyed them. However, I have come a long way from the diet of pure fiction I used to consume. I'd say it's 50/50 now, depending on whether I'm at home (fiction) or school (non-fiction).
Ok, you now have some background information. The main part of this article will be about the myriad benefits of reading literary fiction.
While non-fiction may be directly about real life events or issues, fiction (well-written, quality fiction) often more accurately portrays the emotions, personal interactions, struggles, and joys of life. Characters can be multi-dimensional, developing and changing as the story is fleshed out.
They must face all the trials we go through and sometimes on a grander scale, depending on the plot and setting of their story. Reading books with authentic characterization can grow the reader's understanding of people as well as their sense of empathy. Seeing through the eyes of various characters of different backgrounds can help one do the same in real life.
I've been out of the country several times, but never out of North and Central America. There are many cultures and peoples which I have yet to meet. Even I, a huge proponent of fiction, cannot claim that books get close to taking the place of actual experiences. However, authors do often base fictional races on real world cultures (See "Ranger's Apprentice" and "The Stormlight Archive").
They visit the area, meet the inhabitants, write pages of notes and get a feel for both the place and the people. This information is inserted into the story and allows readers to holistically experience another culture (at least more so than, say, a travel guide could). Also pertaining to people groups in the world are the preconceived notions and prejudices about them. Literary fiction does not exclude issues of prejudice and takes readers directly into the lives (and minds) of those suffering (See "To Kill a Mockingbird").
Fiction can be an escape. Yes, a gloriously vivid, exciting escape. Yet to be completely, utterly absorbed within a fictional world shouldn't be anyone's goal. Rather, the goal should be to enjoy fiction and then take its benefits back to the real world of real people. After all, they're the major characters in your story.