Few people would argue that reading, in general, is bad for your mind. However, I have encountered some people who seem to think that the value of reading is lessened by the type of reading you’re doing. Fiction is apparently less worthwhile reading than non-fiction, and even in the world of reading fiction, adult fiction is often considered far more worthy of our time.
To which I say: ridiculous! I won’t go into why young adult fiction is great because there are plenty of others who have articulated that quite nicely. My point today is that we can learn a lot about the real world from fiction (no matter what the age of the intended audience is). This, of course, is not limited to the specifics that I want to point out; we can learn about anything in the real world from fiction. Fiction has often been a better teacher than all my years in school. It has given me ideas, knowledge, questions, and the means to find answers.
Fiction can teach us to think. It can teach us new ideas, and it can teach us to question what we have been taught. Not that it is wrong, but to question, which is vital. To accept something blindly keeps our minds weak; to open our eyes and question makes us strong. This is a lesson I have learned from fiction.
Fiction can teach us about how people interact, and how they think. People do all sorts of crazy things, and maybe we can’t walk up to them and ask them why, but, through reading stories about all kinds of people, we can try to figure it out ourselves. This sort of lesson is universal throughout fiction; we learn about people whether the book we are reading takes place at Hogwarts or in Sydney, Australia. Even better, we learn about people whose backgrounds may differ from our own. We learn that we are all people, no matter where we come from.
Fiction can teach us about far-off places we don’t get the chance to experience for ourselves. I’ve never been to Miami, Florida, for example. However, I’ve read several great books with Miami as an integral part of the story, so I’d like to think I know something about it. Last year, I went to New York City for the first time. I’d never been there, but it was still, in a way, familiar; I’ve read countless books set in New York. I recognized things I’d never seen!
Fiction can teach us about history. Though I’ve taken several wonderful history courses, I’ve never had a class that went in-depth about the Holocaust and World War II (apparently, it’s never been important on the exam–don’t we love test-centered learning?). As awful as this part of history is, it is also important. It is important to understand what happened, to understand how awful it was, and to understand how it happened, so as to try to prevent history from repeating itself. Even though I never learned much about it at school, I know a lot about this period in history. Why? Because of the countless books I’ve read on it, most of them fiction (though, to be honest, some of it was non-fiction as well). Take any time period in history, and read some fiction set there; I guarantee you’ll learn loads.
Fiction can teach us to express ourselves. We learn by example, and the example here is to be able to write our thoughts, to be articulate and use language to its fullest extent. We can express our ideas, and communicate with other people. From reading, no matter what book, we learn new tricks of language, new vocabulary, or, if it’s poorly written, what not to do.
Fiction can teach us about possibilities. It teaches us to dream. Just because something has not happened to us does not mean it is out of reach. Fiction lets us touch these dreams, lets us hope they can become reality, and even lets them become like reality, if only for a few hours. I am sorry for anyone who does not read fiction because it is not “real;” I am sorry for anyone who has lost their imagination.