Monday, January 6, 2014

Fiction. It's a Good Thing.

The close of a year always brings out “best of” reading lists. I love these lists, as I love to see what people are reading. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my favorite bloggers, though, is that their lists are heavy on nonfiction, while fiction reading is sparse or nonexistent.

I can think of several reasons for that. Tastes in fiction are subjective. I sometimes hesitate recommending books because I don’t know if others will like it. A lot of contemporary fiction contains dark themes, and what is merely thought-provoking to one person may be a stumbling block or trigger for the next. By the time we give all the disclaimers we’ve spoiled the book.

But those of us who read to learn tend to neglect fiction. We feel time slipping trough our fingers, and we want to read all the books we can. I fear, though, that we’re becoming too earnest for our own good. So why read fiction?

It Makes Us Better Readers

Fiction (and to a degree, certain memoirs) engage the imagination in a way other books don’t. Our imaginations are a gift from God, and we glorify him when we use this gift. As Tony Reinke says in his book, Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books,
We imagine because our Creator imagines. And with our imagination we can now “see” eternal reality (2 Corinthians 4:18). This divine imagination, this ability to see the unseen, is a skill God has given us for our spiritual profit.
     Without an active imagination, a good bit of the Bible will be hard to read, difficult to understand, and impossible to appreciate.[1]

It Makes Us Better People

I’ve never been to war. I’ve never lost a child. I’ve never been chased down a dark alley by a bad guy, and by the grace I’ve God I hope I never will be. I would never be so obtuse as to claim I know what these things feel like because I've read fiction, but seeing each of these situations through the eyes of characters in a novel gives me a glimpse of the emotions people experience during these times. Most of our worlds are pretty narrow. It’s good to consider experiences different from ours. [2]

It Makes Us Better Writers

Sometimes when I am reading an article or book I start feeling as if I’m hurtling downhill, unable to get my footing. Usually If I take time to examine why, I notice the pattern of the piece is usually like this: fact, fact, fact, fact, point, fact, fact…you get the idea.

If it’s a situation that requires my feedback—like a review—I usually say something like, “It was kind of dense. Maybe some word pictures would help?" But what I’m really thinking is, “For the love of all that is literary, add some illustrations!”

Jesus, who understood how humans learn better than anyone else, used word pictures in his teaching. A good word picture will let your readers catch their breath and apply all those facts you’ve been giving them. It’s akin to handing your reader a labeled file folder and saying, “Put this idea here.”

I’m sure there are some excellent writers who never read fiction (there are exceptions to every rule), but many writers could improve if they exercised their imaginations through good stories.

It’s Fun

We need to relax sometimes. Enjoying good things is another good gift from God. There’s nothing wrong with certain TV shows or video games, but reading for pleasure is an option that we pass over too often. It’s entertaining and edifying. What more could you ask for?

I’m sure some of you are still unconvinced, and I know reading time is precious. But you’ll never know if you’ll like it until you try it. Consider adding a little fiction to your reading list.

What about you. Do you like to read fiction? Why or why not?

[1] Tony Reinke, Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Crossway Books, 2011.

[2] Tony Reinke examines this point in a slightly different way in this post, and also on pages 120–122 of Lit!.


  1. One of the reasons I seldom say what fiction I'm reading is that many people in Christian circles are free with their dismissal of fiction if it has any curse words. One of the best books I've read is Stephen King's The Stand. I told a friend I read it, and she was shocked that I would read such a novel.

    Fiction is always a reflection of the cultural context of the time. It is a good measure of what people valued, and what issues they dealt with. That's a way of understand the times in which we have live and still live.

    1. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King, but I think The Stand might be his best. He gives a lot to chew on about human nature in that one.

      I've had similar experiences recommending fiction, too.

  2. You always say what I'm thinking. Of course in a much more intelligent and interesting way.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Your friendship blesses me in countless ways.

  3. Yes! I love reading fiction though I am sometimes embarrassed by the amount of fiction I read (compared both to readers I admire who read little to no fiction and correspondingly the amount of non fiction I read). Thanks for reminding me of the fun and benefit of a good novel!

    1. I'm glad you read fiction because you always have good recommendations!

  4. I've always been an outspoken advocate of non-fiction over fiction. The biggest problem I have with most so-called Christian fiction is that it's almost soft porn for women. What I mean by that is that it fashioned as a Christian romance novel that causes a woman to realize what she is missing in her life or in her marriage. I have no problem with fictional historic novels that help a person understand a different culture or time period.

    1. There's a difference between entertainment and escapism. If what we're reading makes us feel more dissatisfied with our own situation (unless it has challenged us to make a positive change), it's not good. What causes that, though, will vary with the individual.

  5. Good points Staci - By comparison to everything I read, I confess I'm not a big reader of fiction but not because I don't enjoy it - And I love to watch movies based on classic literature - the lazy way to enjoy a novel and be entertained. ha! But I do have one of my favorite fiction series in queue again - CS Lewis' Space Trilogy.

  6. Three blogs with year-end reading lists which include lots of fiction: "2013: A Year of Reading" at A Pilgrim in Narnia,; "End of Year Book Survey" at The Bully Pulpit, and mine, "'2013: A Year of Reading' - Pthfthfpt!" at