I always wanted to say I was a “reader,” but like many people I struggled to actually get much reading done.
A couple years ago, I discovered why:
I was reading the wrong kind of books.
I used to read one fiction book, than one non-fiction book. This meant I typically spent two or three weeks churning through some epic fantasy story, and then about six months slogging through a non-fiction book.
I believed it was important to read non-fiction books on leadership or theology because I thought they made me a better person, while fiction was just entertainment.
The only problem? I found them really hard to get through. So instead, I finally decided to start reading the kind of books I actually wanted to read, and it’s made an amazing difference.
Perhaps I’m alone in this idea, but I feel like a lot of Christians think they should also focus on non-fiction books and just ignore the “less-important” fiction books. Not sure why we think this about books and not movies, television, or other story platforms, but the idea that fiction should be avoided or is less useful than non-fiction is simply not true. Here are 4 reasons why Christians should read more fiction:
1) Reading fiction creates empathy
If you want to love your neighbor as yourself, you need empathy skills. Few things create empathy better than reading fiction books. Stories place you inside the heart and mind of the characters you read about, and books arguably do this better than any other story medium.
CS Lewis famously wrote both fiction (Narnia and the Space Trilogy) and non-fiction. Reading fiction, however, was very important to Lewis, largely because of the empathy it created.
“What then is the good of—what is even the defence for—occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist…? …the nearest i have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…we want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.”
2) Fiction can speak truth in a way that non-fiction simply cannot
Have you ever wondered why Jesus spoke so often in parables? Mark 4:33 says, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”
He used fictional stories to illustrate important truths. For whatever reason, we can appreciate the meaning of stories and the truths plant themselves deeper into our hearts and minds than simple facts.
This doesn’t mean every story needs to be allegorical either. Any good story will carry meaning, and as the reader you get to discover that meaning for yourself. Here are a few examples from the past few books I read:
The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien, provides the mythology behind Lord of the Rings, and at the same time demonstrated the danger and sorrow that comes from pride and revenge. It also forces you to consider the dangerous, but appealing nature, lies that come from the enemy.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams, is a book about rabbits (yes rabbits), but it also offers a compelling picture of great leadership. I’ve read several non-fiction books on leadership and while some were very useful, this one is possibly the best because the story will stick with me.
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King, is a fantasy/western saga of 8 books. It’s a gripping tale, and at times it is weird, horrifying, hilarious, and inspiring. Ultimately, it speaks to the very nature of storytelling, as well as the effect that addiction or obsession can have on relationships.
The list could go on, but those are three very different stories. Naturally, fiction doesn’t always speak truth, but it is certainly capable of it. Smart readers need to watch for lies, but when you find truth in fiction, it simply sticks.
3) Reading books is good exercise for your brain
Most people today spend a lot of time reading, but they’re mostly reading articles or posts they find on the internet. While this isn’t always bad, there is an advantage to your brain when you spend longer spans of time reading a single story. Compare it to exercise – there is a benefit to walking around your house – lots of short walks in different directions are more beneficial than sitting on the couch all day. However, going outside and jogging for thirty minutes brings an entirely new set of benefits to your body.
Similarly, long-form reading of books is good for your brain: it can increase your intelligence, help you sleep, and even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. You simply don’t get those benefits reading a bunch of articles on a screen.
Research explains the difference this way: “The screen‐based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one‐time reading, non‐linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in‐depth reading, and concentrated reading. Decreasing sustained attention is also noted.”
Notice that the studies don’t differentiate between fiction or non-fiction. What our brains need is sustained attention to a book, and you can certainly get this with a great story.
4) Reading is entertaining
Remember when I said I felt like I shouldn’t waste time reading fiction when it’s just entertainment? Well what the heck is wrong with entertainment?!
Entertainment has become one of my favorite aspects of reading fiction. The more you enjoy reading, the more you’ll enjoy the other benefits of reading.
If you want to read more, than simply read the type of books you want to turn the pages. Maybe you don’t like fiction, but you fly through history books or theology books or biographies.
Personally? I love the fantasy genre. Give me elves and dwarves and hobbits and goblins and dragons and I’ll love it. I also know it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok!
25% of adults in America won’t even pick-up a book this year, and a much larger percentage will only read one or two. If you want to read more, then simply start reading something you enjoy. Yes, you can still find time to read books you’re “supposed to read.” For instance, I’m reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller right now, but I’m also reading The Hobbit at the same time.
Because once you find reading entertaining, you will exercise your brain more, learn empathy, and recognize the kind of truths that only fiction can tell.