#40: How will reading fiction improve me?
The last non-fiction piece you'll need to read
Sometime along med school I decided that reading fiction was a waste of my time, an indulgence, hours of my precious time that don't teach me anything about science or how the world works.
Today, I no longer practice medicine, 75% of the books I read every year are novels and I have dedicated a large part of my life to writing one myself!
Some of you may think this is ironic that I write this very non fiction essay while I am touting how fiction is superior. Well shit. You caught me. This whole blog is a trojan horse to captivate your hearts and minds and to launch you into my fictional world of characters and stories!
I hope I convince you by the end to stop reading articles like this one and read more novels.
Here is why fiction is important.
1- It is the only real source of truth.
2- Just like traveling, but way cheaper and change is guaranteed.
3- It is a chance to connect with the magical and the divine.
Let me Gumptionize you every Sunday.
1- Fiction gets you closer to the truth
We live in a world that is growing more and more apart. Nationalist rhetoric is up against the forces of globalization. Covid really uncovered that. Vaxers vs ANti-Vaxers, Maskers vs Anti-Maskers and Stay at home-rs vs Go out-ers.You know the drill.
We are polarized, and we are locked in environments that only resonate with our biases. We are experiencing a sliver of the human collective that confirms our ideas on our feeds, and in our social dinners.
This is all great until you collide with someone at work, or even worse, in your family, who dares think differently than you. Our first instinct is to call them idiots (many of them are ofcourse), but then when these idiots leave your space with their foolish ideas (because yours are well-researched and preciously curated), you find yourself left with a bitter taste.
A small voice in your head keeps you engaged with their shitty point of view. I cant’ believe that this is what they think! You tell your closest friend (who holds your exact same point of view). You are relieved to see them nod their heads.
Your friend confirms that this coworker or family members is indeed an idiot. She tells you that life is too short to deal with this stupid person and hear their stupid ideas.
This is when you start avoiding the coworker, you avoid the family member like the plague. This is where professional relationships breakdown, creativity gets blocked, and families break down.
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
I have been there with ex-partners in life, business, and even in partying. It seems like it gets to a point where our differences simply collide and press our buttons so hard that we can't sustain the relationship any longer. It does not have to be this way, if we start understanding why we feel like we need to protect ourselves from ideas that are foreign to us.
One way to do this naturally is by reading fiction. The great thing about a novel, is that it encompasses conflict by default. You are guaranteed at the very least two conflicting points of view.
The great thing about a novel, is that it encompasses conflict by default. You are guaranteed at the very least two conflicting points of view.
Novels do that exponentially better than movies, for the simple fact that you can dig much deeper into why a character - even the villian- is doing what they are doing. You can be in many people’s mind, or at the very least, the hero’s mind which will never be identical to yours.
Reading fiction has been proven to increase your capacity for compassion and empathy, where that does not exist in non-fiction books or essays that express one person's point over all others.
In that way, Non fiction books are as limited as religious books are: They provide guidance, but do not encompass the full human experience and imperfections. Don’t get me wrong I read a lot of non-fiction too! But it falls short when it comes to helping us understand the breadth, and the chaos of the human experience. So the next time you are in conflict, go read a good novel and allow yourself to be reminded that conflict is an essential part of the human experience.
So the next time you are in conflict, go read a good novel and allow yourself to be reminded that conflict is an essential part of the human experience.
If you are an activist, read about great characters that are based on your enemies, it will help you understand them more, and give you a leg up.
But more importantly, you may be able to become more productive at work, save your marriage or maintain family ties just by bringing in more enjoyable fiction into your life.
“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
― Albert Camus
2- Just like traveling, but way cheaper with transformation guaranteed.
Traveling is great, but it is expensive and time consuming. Reading fiction gives you the same or even better outcomes at a negligible cost. I would even go as far as to say, that it is better.
Think about it.
You can pay thousands of dollars to travel, and come back happy but unchanged. Whereas a good novel, allows you experience a new country from the eyes of a local, or a person who has a lot of skin in the game.
It is easy to get locked into being a tourist, but in a novel, you can't do so. You are heavily invested, and so are your characters. You will continue to understand the place through the events that happen to them, and you will come out with far more knowledge about the place than you could have ever thought.
Change is inevitable, for both you and the hero.
Change is inevitable, for both you and the hero. At least if its a good novel worth reading. If it isn’t changing you then it was not worth reading.
“Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
― David Foster Wallace
3- You get to participate in magic
There are many genres in fiction, some can bring in more magic than others. However, I believe that any novel takes you out of the ordinary realm and into the extraordinary lives of characters and minds of authors.
You get to experience a world where conflicts get resolved, dreams get fulfilled, and sometimes miracles can even happen. Fiction helps us connect with our own hero journeys, it helps us relate to obstacles and hardships in a new way, and it helps us remember that life is not predictable nor is it a simple straight line. I feel like reading novels reminds us of the magic that lives within us.
I feel like reading novels reminds us of the magic that lives within us.
In a world where we can get locked in right or wrong, and boxes of how things are supposed to be, we are reminded of the sheer genius that exists within us, and we get inspired by how the characters tap into their inner resourcefulness to overcome life's obstacles and challenges.
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
Stay tuned for next Wednesday where I will share my favorite 5 novels that I have found worth reading in the past couple of years.