If you are a massive over-thinker like I am, you may well spend a lot of time thinking about extracting the maximum utility out of your reading time. If I invest the 10+ hours in a book, I want to know what measurable outcomes I will get out of it.
On the face of it, fiction does not seem to stack up. If I read a non-fiction book I will learn things and become smarter. With fiction, the path is less clear. However, if you too feel this way, there are some good reasons to get stuck in to a good story.
Books can be a bit of a slog. I like starting and finishing a book, but the middle can sometimes be a bit of a drag. This can occur with any book, but on the whole I think good fiction books drag less often. Instead of considering every book for its knowledge, you could just read because it is enjoyable. Time well wasted.
Stories are memorable
Good fiction often has a take-home message, and a moral. Non-fiction does too, but it can be hard to remember plain facts and figures. Stories on the other hand, are very memorable. Humans seem to be wired to sharing stories and we remember them much better than we remember stats. Non-fiction may have more knowledge on paper, but once you have forgotten most of it the gap is a lot smaller.
Part of the reason could be that fiction is often more emotional. A textbook on the Great Depression is unlikely to teach me more than John Steinbeck did in The Grapes of Wrath because he really makes you feel the pain and frustration of those travelling west, chasing the hollow dream they had been sold.
It can explore ideas
In fiction, you can explore ideas that you cannot explore in non-fiction. You can also take ideas further and come up with contrived scenarios. George Orwell explored the dark side of communism through Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Star Trek explored the ethics of AI through Commander Data in a far more involving way than a simple thought experiment ever could.
You get references
In Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty discusses theories of economics using analogies from the writing of Jane Austen. It was a great way to explain the point, but if you hadn’t read Jane Austen it may have been totally lost on you. I wrote about this last year in a post entitled The Benefits of Austen.
They pop up in all sorts of places. There is a Gary Jules song named Umbilical Town in which he sings about Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment. It is a beautiful song anyway, but understanding the background only makes it better.
Smart people have read classics
Are you so shallow that you want to me seen as well-educated among your peer group? I certainly am. How about seeming clever in front of your children? Again, yes. Why not read some Russian literature and be ready to spring into conversation with “that wasn’t my interpretation of Tolstoy!”
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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016 at 10:51 am and is filed under Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.