Why you should read more fiction as an adult
Reading for pleasure is underrated as heck.
A warm welcome to our new subscribers and hello again to all my old friends! 👋🏽 This is the twenty-fifth (25!) issue of Perceptive Madness — wild that I’ve been writing this for more than six months already. Thanks for joining along and I hope you’ll stick around.
If someone asked why I like reading books, I’d tell them — I enjoy escaping into other worlds. Books have always been a lovely escape for me. From the real world, from school, from work, from whatever I’m trying to ignore.
As a child, when I said I liked reading books because I liked stories, I’d always receive encouraging nods and smiles. Now, as an adult, anytime I mention that I prefer fiction over non-fiction, I’m usually met with a raised eyebrow.
“Fiction? Seriously, why? What do you read?” 🙄
If I tell them I’m a student of literature, I’m afforded some grudging understanding. But then when I mention I don’t read classics, up goes that eyebrow again. It makes me wonder — what’s our obsession with expecting folks to only read challenging or useful books?
What’s on your TBR (To Be Read list)?
Earlier this year, a client asked me to write the Team page of their website. In an Excel sheet, 20-odd people had written down their hobbies and interests because this company wanted to put forth a more-than-work persona.
Almost half of them put down reading books as their hobby. Not a single one listed a fiction book. Everyone was reading 15 mins to 15 pages a day, but they weren’t reading anything other than self-help or business books.
Honestly, I expected this. Our society has a weird problem with adults reading for enjoyment — unless they’re in a creative space of some sort.
Every CEO and billionaire under the sun says they read every single day. But I have to wonder what their feeds would look like if they got Goodreads. Because like that team I wrote for, very few of them read or share their fiction recommendations. If they do, it’s always an already over-recommended classic, and more often than not, written by either a white person or a man.
“(Warren) Buffet recommended 19 books in 2019; not one of the titles is fiction. Of the 94 books Bill Gates recommended over a seven-year period, only nine of them are fiction. — Harvard Business Review
Apparently, once you’re old enough (this is usually around the time high school ends and you go to college/start work), you should only make time to read “useful” books. This is when you start choosing, or you’re pushed to select books that can make you, your life, your work, and your relationships better. Tangible, visible benefits — that’s what you want.
Now, while that’s great and all, I’m here to make an argument that we all need to read more fiction. Not because it’s good for you (it is) but simply because we don’t tend to pick it up because it’s ‘fun.’ And somewhere along the line, we stopped reading simply because we wanted to.
Reading for pleasure isn’t a crime
“You should never read just for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of “literature”? That means fiction, too, stupid.” — John Waters, Role Models.
This quote frustrates me to no end because I like some parts of it, and I take great offense to the others. How ironic is it that he says we should read to make ourselves less judgemental but then turns right around and judges those of us who might want to read easy or frivolous books?
After all, why shouldn’t I read just for enjoyment? In a world that’s so fraught with uncertainty and problems, why should I deny myself the simple pleasures of reading a funny but useless book? Or why shouldn’t I read easy books? Given my unending reading slump, any book I need to “concentrate” to read will not be read. I like children’s picture books. They’re cute and easy to read and make me feel nice about reading something. Sure, I’m not becoming smarter or learning anything except that it’s okay to read whatever, but that’s okay because I liked reading that book. Also, I’m pretty sure reading that easy book made me less judgy and preachy.
Stories have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As children, we read moral stories, fables, and parables — all tales with something to learn at the end. Be nice to everyone, treat animals with care, practise kindness, and sometimes grapes are sour, so you can let them be.
Reading all these stories that ended with a moral set us up to believe that books had to teach us something. It wasn’t enough to be entertained or simply enjoy the book, but we needed to get something out of it.
If somehow someone’s encouraged to pick up a fiction book, then your options are extremely limited to classics or adult literary fiction (modern “classics”). God forbid you pick up a graphic novel or a children’s picture book or (gasp!) a young adult dystopian novel. Because, what’s the point of those?
Everyone’s always preaching about the benefits of non-fiction books. Self-help books, well, help you. Business books offer neat strategies and nuggets of advice from veteran leaders. Books that explore countries, cultures, histories, are integral to further our understanding of each other.
So then what does fiction bring to the table?
As it turns out, a lot.
Reading fiction makes you more empathetic and accepting. It’s not news that when we are exposed to different narratives, we can gain more perspective. Over at Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, research demonstrated that people who read fiction have better social cognition. Fiction readers are more able to gauge what others around them are thinking and feeling, allowing them to connect better. This also makes them more likely to help others and behave more altruistically.
Fiction books are not entirely devoid of any reality or realism. All writers pull stories from their own lived experiences or from those around them. This gives us a detailed view of how different people live and experience life on earth. Simply put, books open our minds. As HBR puts it, “...reading literature requires us to slow down, take in volumes of information, and then change our minds as we read. There’s no easy answer in literature; instead, there’s only perspective-taking.”
More than anything else, I’m just here to read fiction because I like it. I enjoy delving into new worlds, learning more about non-existent characters, and practically devoting my life to them, and I feel good about it.
That’s all there is to it, really. Reading should also be for fun, and it’s time we understood and encouraged that.
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Weekly faves! 💌
Do you get confused between ALOT vs. A LOT? Allie Brosh's old but still definitely gold article will help put things in perspective. I thought it was such a cute read, hehe.
Wanna watch what everyone's watching? Netflix launched a Top 10 site that's gonna make it easier for you. See which films and TV series (English, Other Language) you need to watch ASAP, so you don't get spoiled. Sort by country or go global.
What about music? Here's a website that tells you what's the most popular song in your area and some cool music facts about trending music from all around the world.
Even though Warren Buffet may not read or recommend many fiction books, he's got a pretty helpful strategy to help you focus on your priorities. It's simple, it's doable, and most importantly, it works.
Don't keep it all inside —
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See you next week!
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