Some people consider reading fiction a waste of time, akin to watching movies based on it. Never overlook the pleasure of reading a great work of fiction.
Being the first born in my family and the only child for my first five years, my parents were adamant about providing me with educational entertainment. In our home, the purchase of books was equated to the purchase of toys. I still remember the Mulan comic book my mother bought me when I was too sick to attend the book fair, and the Harry Potter series my father surprised me with on one of our trips to Dubai. As I grew older, I became more and more attached to the distinct aroma of recycled book paper, ink, and binding. I also began to realize that more and more people kept on telling me, “Novels and fiction are a waste of time. You should read something more useful”. This would ignite a long and emotional debate that would leave me frustrated, and I would take solace in Milan Kundera’s words, “The stupidity of people comes from having the answer to everything. The wisdom of novels comes from having a question for everything”.
Novels have narratives that encompass varying attitudes, standpoints and experiences, making readers contemplate on what has been read. The readers’ minds create their own unique visual interpretations that can never be replicated by another person who reads the same exact book. This quality exposes everything in a new light and through a fresh lens that leads to new ideas. These crisp ideas, narratives, and perspectives feed the human creativity process and imagination with unique concepts and thoughts. Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize laureate Physicist, sheds light on the importance of imagination by expressing that “imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” With an elaborate imagination, we can fabricate inventions and equations that have not existed yet, but might exist in the future.
What is truly significant in reading and learning is how the gained information is interpreted and applied. Fiction enables readers to become adept in manipulating perspectives. In essence, this means being able to perceive the same information from different focal points and through various narratives, by viewing the same situation through different characters’ eyes. Many people might ask, why should we be concerned with other perspectives when we have our own? The answer to this question is that our perspectives and experiences are sometimes not enough. Fiction provides readers with a broader landscape of thoughts, more room to contemplate on different concepts, and mechanisms to bend in times of hardship rather than break. This is true due to readers’ ability in placing themselves in other people’s shoes.
Hence, the awareness of one’s own thoughts and feelings and the fact that others might not share them become part of a reader’s mental buildup. This ability is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), which is usually obtained through daily interactions, experiences, and conversations. However, reading fiction tends to speed up this process. A developed ToM allows a person to interact socially and use their cognitive abilities to read thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that works of literary fiction can impact readers’ ToM in a way that allows them to deduce motives and thoughts in social situations based on experiences gained from fiction. Nonetheless, novels and fiction are also a valuable source of knowledge that could be an extension to solid information presented in nonfiction books.
This is especially true when it comes to historical fiction, which combines fictional events into a real timeline, setting, and sometimes even characters that hold historical relevance. An epic play such as Euripides’ Medea depicts the values of the Greeks in terms of theatric entertainment and their viewpoint on gender roles, their gods, and societal norms. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman explores post-WWII America and the effect of the American Dream on the people. Hence, it is evident that historical fiction gives readers imperative insight into societal values and issues during a specific period of time. Moreover, it allows us to gain insight on the emotional and non-statistical side of events and circumstances. When reading about the Second Gulf War in a political textbook, readers only observe the numbers, dates and concrete events. However, the struggle is only felt by listening to the stories of people who have lived through the war. The emotional dimension of reading stories, whether they are set in the past or the present, allows readers to better understand why groups of people act in a certain way, treasure some occasions and find particular matters worthy.
Thus, novels could not be described as opinions or hypothetical events, rather as autobiographies of people, regardless of the reality of their existence, who are experiencing situations that readers might have endured or will undergo. A great work of fiction is just as much a piece of artwork as oil on canvas. Just as each painting depicts the values, norms, and issues of different societies, so does a novel. It is a tool to feed readers’ creativity, imagination, analytical thinking and ToM. For some people, reading novels comes as a passion and an entertaining way to pass the time, but for those who don’t, Tawfiq Al-Hakim sums it up well in his words, “The first way to encourage reading is to raise personal curiosity”. Find what you are curious about, feed your imagination, enhance your creativity and direct it towards an area that interests and benefits you.