Reading Fiction: Guilty Pleasure or Worthy Pursuit?

In my former career as a “beancounter,” I rarely allowed myself to read anything other than business books. Books were merely tools utilized to further my career. The payback period had to be short and the return on investment had to be high. I needed to see an immediate benefit, in the form of increased knowledge, from the time I had invested in reading. Time was money and I didn’t have the luxury of wasting it on nonsensical stories.

Somewhere along the way the joy I felt from spending lazy afternoons curled up with a good book was replaced by the notion that fiction held no value. Reading fiction had become a guilty pleasure. It was as if I had adopted an ascetic lifestyle, sworn an oath akin to celibacy, abstaining from the joy of reading, not because it was what I wanted but because it was expected if I were to grow intellectually. A work of fiction was just an invented story about people who never existed; and therefore, useless information. Nothing could be gained from it so naturally it held no merit. “Thou shalt not read fiction,” became my mantra.

On the rare occasion that I allowed myself to read a work of fiction I typically couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. I’d become completely wrapped up in this “sinful” pursuit, reading late into the night. These transgressions were worthy of a good self-flogging which often took the form of force feeding another business book. I never got much joy from reading a business book so it was  an appropriate punishment. I usually had to force myself to finish it and would skim pages just to get through it.

Then I’d come across a favorite quote, gaze longingly at the words, and marvel at how a single sentence could stir my soul. The longing to read good fiction would be rekindled. I found that despite my efforts to suppress my affection for fiction, abstinence made the heart grow fonder.

Now, I never miss an opportunity to read fiction. It transports you to different worlds that you may not get to explore otherwise. It allows you to see life through someone else’s eyes, to be exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking. It can deepen your life experiences.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” ~ George R.R. Martin

Reading fiction does have merit. It gets the creative juices flowing. It stimulates the imagination.

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” ~ Albert Einstein

Now, it seems I always have a book in my hand, and undoubtedly, it is fiction.

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4 thoughts on “Reading Fiction: Guilty Pleasure or Worthy Pursuit?”

  1. When I was studying at the Institute for Children’s Literature, I had similar thoughts to those you expressed here. At first, I only considered writing non-fiction, but once I started creating fictional children’s stories, I was delighted with creating entertaining stories for children with important lessons woven within.

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