Five Ways Fiction Can Improve Your Life

long reader

Fiction can change your life. It’s safer than drugs and cheaper than therapy.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t need drugs or therapy, but I can tell you this; stories have been around longer than either and continue to serve us well.

Reading fiction is not a waste of time. Nor is it a luxury. So if you find yourself feeling guilty about sitting down with a good book, remember these five ways you are improving your life.

Five Gifts Of Fiction

Respite. Reading a good story has the power to do two seemingly opposite things at the same time. It both takes us away and keeps us fully present.

There is a meditative quality to putting our attention on a story. And we all know the benefits of meditation.

In this demanding world of faster!-faster!-bigger!-better!-more! fiction gives us refuge. It slows us down.

Perspective. Reading the stories of others’ lives reminds us and reassures us that we are not alone. Not in our fears. Not in our joys. Not in our longing or suffering.

If the protagonist survived these horrors, chances are we can too. It teaches us how we might see things differently.

Space. Fiction provides a comfortable distance, a buffer zone from which to view our own vulnerability. Maybe we’ve felt that pain, had that experience, been that disappointed, hurt, angry, ashamed.

We feel compassion for the characters. Maybe we can even find some compassion for ourselves. And for others.

readerPrivacy. Within the buffer zone we might discover things about ourselves that are just too personal to share. After all, the characters in the story aren’t going to tell our secrets. Or we might see someone else’s story, get a better understanding of their plight, and become a little less judgmental, a little kinder.

Control. It’s always available in real time. Pick up the book whenever you want and attend the event for as long as you like. Stop when you want, it will wait for you.

I recommend real books, you know the old fashion paper kind. They don’t scream at you and interfere with your brain waves the way technology does.

Travel to distant lands. Go back in time. Put yourself in danger. All from the safety of your armchair, in your slippers, with your tea or wine.

If you find you don’t like the story, just stop reading it. It’s totally up to you. You’re in control.

Finding Truth In Fiction

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” – Albert Camus

When I find something particularly truthful or insightful in a work of fiction, I get out my yellow highlighter. This makes my friend Henry crazy; he thinks I am defacing the book.

I prefer to see it as an act of worship, drawing a frame around the most beautiful and cherished gems so as not to lose them. Here are a few of the many gems I have found in fiction:

From Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong

Take your life into your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.

From The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

….all I ever saw at home was a miserable woman who heaped punishment on her children – for running on the stairs, for a hint of insubordination, for wanting things she did not think it would be possible for them to have. [ ] ….Maybe Mother didn’t know that she was supposed to love us,…

From The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

….To resist occupation, whether you’re a nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line and it looks like rain.

From Sight Hound by Pam Houston

There are three principles to remember if you are to teach a human being anything, and they are consistency, consistency, consistency. They are such fragile creatures to begin with, with poor eyes, poorer hearing, and no sense of smell left to speak of, it’s no wonder they are made of fear. Some centuries ago they moved inside and with that move went nine-tenths of their intuition. It is almost unmerciful to make them live so long when they spend their lives in so much pain.

Call to Action:

How has fiction opened your mind to new perspectives? What words spoke directly to you? Do you have a favorite passage? Please share.

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