3 reasons I’m reading more fiction

medium_5438459663

When I was a boy, I loved reading (and obviously I still do). I remember going to the mall in St. Albert, Alberta, with my mom and sister one Saturday morning, and as soon as I was able, I beelined for the bookstore and spent all the money I had on a paperback novel. If I remember correctly, it was A Rock and a Hard Place, one of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels.

(Don’t judge me.)

When we got home from the mall, I went up to my room and I started reading. I didn’t finish until the entire book was done. Incidentally, this may have been the most peaceful day of my mother’s entire life as a parent.

All through high school and college, I read tons of fiction and dabbled in non-fiction as I got older (provided the topic was interesting enough). My reasonably eclectic (and sometimes pretentious) tastes always made for interesting late night reading on bus rides home from my college job at a bookstore here in London (Coles in White Oaks Mall, for those interested—it’s now a Bath and Body Works, I believe).

And then, for some reason, I just stopped reading fiction and began almost exclusively reading non-fiction. The genres were, again, pretty varied—business, social commentary, theology, biography—but for nearly a decade, I lived on a steady diet of non-fiction.

A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine challenged me to change that. So, I did. I spent most of that summer reading fiction, including the Hunger Games series. And I’m really glad I did, because it reminded me how unbalanced my reading had become.

Since then I’ve tried to keep a pretty decent balance of fiction and non-fiction in my literary diet. Here are three reasons why I think it’s a good idea—especially for us yahoos who are really into theology and such—to be reading fiction regularly:

1. It exercises my imagination. One author I really enjoy is Greg Rucka. He’s a genius when it comes to placing you in a real world. Exceptionally well-researched work that gives you all you need to properly picture the scene—whether it’s a Disney-esque theme park, Middle Eastern streets so crammed with people you almost feel claustrophobic, or a small apartment filled with the scent of pancakes and orange juice. When I read his stuff, I get very excited as my mind starts to build the world he describes. It’s the same with series like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings—good authors know how to make their fictional worlds feel real by giving your imagination enough room to work.

2. Balance is really important. Imagine you only get your news from CNN or FoxNews. You won’t actually be getting the news, you’ll be getting a sensationalized interpretation of said news from one perspective or another. But when you watch or read multiple perspectives on the same story, you begin to get a better picture of the reality of the situation. Our reading habits are like that. When we only read one genre, or a very limited range of genres, we become unbalanced. We start thinking too small, and overlook different possibilities, and kind of bore people when we talk about what we’re reading (because, honestly, it’s a rare person who actually wants to talk with me about a biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones or a book on heretics).

3. It makes me a better writer. I’ve gotta be honest: too many non-fiction writers seem to lack any sort of artistic passion in what they write. They write technically well, but it’s not terribly exciting stuff to read. But good fiction—keep in mind, there’s a bunch of poorly written gobbledygook out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight)—is great art. And good writing—great art—makes me want to write better.

How varied is your reading? What’s one fiction book you want to read?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

Sponsored Message

Get new content delivered to your inbox

  • Andrew Bernhardt

    I’ve liked Lewis,Tolkien, and Frank Herbert’s Dune series for a long time, but lately I’ve been catching up on the classics through free e-books. Recently read fictional books are Ben Hur, Treasure Island, Captains Courageous, Robinson Crusoe, various H.G. Wells stories, and some Sherlock Holmes. I’m currently in Don Quixote, with some Washington Irving and Jules Verne. In the queue are Beowulf, the Lost World, and some Homer, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.

  • http://asmallwork.wordpress.com/ Ryan Higginbottom

    I heartily agree, Aaron! All three of your points here are well taken. I even find that I think better and more carefully when I’m regularly reading fiction. Some truths can be expressed more beautifully in fiction than in nonfiction. If you’ve ever read The Road (by Cormac McCarthy), you know that the love and devotion a father has for his son cannot be explained as well as it can be shown.

  • Otter2

    I love this post. I didn’t come to Christ until I was 51 so since then all my reading is the Bible or commentaries or definitely theological. I have a lot of catching up to do! But did I ever enjoy John Irving, Larry McMurtry, Tom Wolfe and for my thriller thrill Thomas Perry. I should reread Irving’s “Garp” or really any of his books and read with a different view.

  • Amber

    So what fiction books have you discovered that you recommend? I have a far more difficult time finding fiction books I’d like to read than non-fiction.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      I really liked Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk. It’s just a fun, silly (and a bit absurd) story and the Queen and Country series by Greg Rucka is excellent (it’s got a fair bit of violence and swearing, though). The Ashtown Burials series by ND Wilson is also very good. Those are the real standout items from me, aside from reading some great older stuff like The Hobbit.

      • Amber

        Thanks, Aaron. I’ll check those out.

    • http://asmallwork.wordpress.com/ Ryan Higginbottom

      I think in one sense fiction is more valuable for us if it is enjoyable. And not everyone likes every genre of fiction. So before getting recommendations you might consider: what kind of fiction do you like to read? Recommending P.G. Wodehouse to someone who doesn’t like to read satire and humor isn’t a good recommendation. (Though Wodehouse is simply fantastic.)

      • Amber

        I like reading books from genres I wouldn’t usually read, and I’m often surprised by how much I like them. I find I prefer to read great writing from genres that aren’t my favorite than mediocre writing from my preferred genre. But I do love satire, so I’ll check out Woodhouse.

        • http://asmallwork.wordpress.com/ Ryan Higginbottom

          Wodehouse is more humor than traditional satire, I suppose, but his writings clearly skewer the British upper crust.

          Let me throw out a few other recent fiction favorites of mine, tending toward the modern rather than classic: Peace Like a River (Enger), Gilead (Robinson), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Sloan), Where’d You Go Bernadette (Semple), Jayber Crow (Berry), The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat (Moore), True Grit (Portis). I’d also recommend most anything by Cormac McCarthy. Most of these books would fall into the genre of literary fiction, I suppose.

          • Amber

            I looked into Wodehouse and realized I’m already familiar with him. (I’ve been watching Laurie and Fry’s “Jeeves and Wooster.”) I’m a sucker for British period pieces, so I just downloaded “Something New” and am really enjoying it.

            And because you are the 1,000th person to recommend “Gilead” to me, I suppose I better read it. (I checked it out from the library twice and never got around to it.) I have a degree in literature, so I’ve read a lot of the classics, but have a hard time finding modern books, so these are great suggestions, thank you!