“Pretty much all of my reading is non-fiction”
“I don’t really have time to read novels.”
“I used to read fiction, but not anymore.”
I love to read. In fact, it’s probably my favorite pastime. I always enjoy talking with fellow readers: discussing what books we’ve read lately, looking for book recommendations. It’s not too difficult to find someone in ministry who reads regularly (although many should read more). I know many that I can ask for good recommendations on books relating to ministry, spiritual growth, and personal development. It is more difficult to find someone who can recommend me great fiction books.
You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? There are more important things to read than novels.” I agree! I try to always be reading four books at a time. Out of those four, three are nonfiction, so only 25% of my reading is fiction. However, that is not to say that we should never read fiction, or that there is no value in it! Actually, reading fiction can bring some very positive benefits to our lives! I’d like to challenge you to expand your reading, and think about the benefits you can have by reading a good novel:
Fiction Develops a Love for Reading
As I said, reading is my favorite pastime. My goal for this year was to read 50 books (I’m on track to pass that goal). I read more books than most people I know, although I know others that read far more than I do! The fact that I love reading makes it much easier for me to get through 50 books in a year. I know of many godly men who read because they know of the great benefits it brings, even though they don’t particularly enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy reading, you’re probably going to have a hard time making it a regular practice!
That’s the first way that fiction can help you. My love for reading came into being when I was a kid. I didn’t start out by reading Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Iliad, or books on preaching and exegesis. I developed a love for reading with books like The Hardy Boys, Goosebumps, and Left Behind (my eschatology wasn’t fully developed in those days) when I was a kid. In my teenage years, I read sci-fi and fantasy books. As I matured, I began to branch out and read things that would directly impact my spiritual life. I believe that without developing a passion to read through fiction, I would struggle much more with making reading a habit today.
Fiction Can be a Great Way to Communicate Truth
People love stories. I’ve never met someone who didn’t love to hear an interesting story. People love to see stories on TV, hear them told by friends, read them, and tell their own stories to anyone who will listen. Stories stick with us; we them for years.
Our built-in love for stories can make them an effective way of communicating truth. Truth communicated in stories often has greater emotional resonance and sticks with us longer than if it were simply told to us. I believe this is one reason Jesus used so many parables. We know one reason He used them was to conceal truth from certain people, but I believe that He also used parables because He knew the truths would have greater impact that way.
For example, I’ve read several articles about the dangers of socialism/communism. I remember some of the things I’ve learned, but I couldn’t tell you where I read the article, or what it really said. However, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm have had tremendous impact on my thinking. The truths in those fiction books stuck with me much more than what I read in the articles. Other fiction books have impacted me in a similar way. The Lord of the Flies by William F. Golding presents the depravity of man in such a profound way, that it’s still a major influence on my view of human nature a decade after I read it. Good fiction can communicate truth in a more powerful way than non-fiction.
Fiction Can Help You Learn to Communicate Effectively
You have to study what you want to be great at. A homiletics student should pay attention to great preaching. An aspiring basketball player would do well to watch and learn from the greats. Someone who is interested in writing and communicating can learn much from fiction.
If you want to write well, it’s important to study the great writers, many of whom wrote fiction. By examining the prose of great writers like Tolkien, Lewis, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and others, we can learn how to more effectively communicate ourselves. We learn new words. We learn how to describe things in vivid ways. We learn how to communicate in a way that is clear and interesting.
This isn’t just important for someone who wants to write books or blog posts. We all need to communicate! Whether it’s an email, a letter, a sermon, or a conversation, we can all benefit from learning to communicate more effectively.
Fiction is Fun!
Finally, don’t forget that it’s ok to simply read something for the enjoyment of it. We can get so caught up in our responsibilities that we neglect to take some time to simply rest and relax. The Lord designed us to need rest and refreshment, and there’s nothing wrong with reading something simply to enjoy it. Of course, we need to be discerning in what we read; but maybe an interesting novel that stimulates your mind could be a good alternative to vegging out and watching TV for a few hours.
I’m sure I could think of other reasons of why reading fiction can be good for you, but I’ll leave you with these four: It develops a love for reading, it can be an effective way to communicate truth, it can help you learn to communicate effectively, and it’s fun! So let me challenge you to get out of your rut and pick up a good novel. It can help you…and you might just enjoy it!