Fiction: Why Read It?

I began Literate Lives with the intention of including writing prompts and reading response exercises. My original plan had been to include material that addresses both fiction and non-fiction reading and writing. However, as my blog has evolved, I realize I lean heavily in the direction of fiction.

Because of my English/Language Arts teaching experience and my desire to help teachers in the classroom and home, I feel a strong obligation to include writing prompts for all modes of writing—expository, narrative, persuasive, and imaginative. Young people, and adults, need to practice these skills. Yet as a fiction writer with a blog audience partially made up of fiction writers, I have consciously decided to lean more heavily in the direction of fiction.

Now, with over a year of blogging behind me, I must confess my reading response exercises are all tailored for the reading of fiction. I had initially intended of broaden my offerings, but just never got around to it. Why? Two reasons. First, I love fiction. I love reading fiction. I love writing fiction. I love sharing fiction. But there is more to my reasoning than just personal pleasure. I believe the reading of fiction is a valuable practice for young people, old people, and everyone in between. With that in mind, I’d like to let others whose words have inspired me explain why.

In her 2010 Newbery Medal acceptance speech, Rebecca Stead described her own reading journey:

When I read books, I wasn’t alone in the rooms of my own mind. I was running up and down other people’s stairs and finding secret places behind their closets. The people on the other side of the door had things I couldn’t have, like sisters, or dragons, and they shared those things with me. And they also had things I did have, like feelings of self-doubt and longing, and they named those things for me.

Just to reinforce Rebecca’s final words, consider this from Eudora Welty:

Great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel. Eventually it may show us how to face our feelings and face our actions and to have new inklings about what they mean. A good novel of any year can initiate us into our own new experience.

In Character and Viewpoint, which I recently read and very much enjoyed, Orson Scott Card writes:

We never fully understand other people’s motives in real life. In fiction, however, we can help our readers understand our characters’ motives with clarity, sometimes even certainty. This is one of the reasons why people read fiction—to come to some understanding of why other people act the way they do.

Reading fiction builds self understanding and empathy. Through fiction I have experienced countless lifetimes, careers, people, places, and relationships. I would be so much poorer without the many riches the reading of fiction has brought me, as would be my understanding of myself and others.

Read fiction. Read your kids fiction, and help them find the genres they love, so they will read fiction too.

*Are you a fiction reader, fiction writer, or both?