“What is the value of reading fiction?”

I’ll start off by addressing the value that fiction had for me. When I was a kid, I was an avid reader. I would read through entire series in a week or two. I got obsessed with Les Mis and read the 4,000 page version before I was 10. I’ll list some benefits, all of which I realized later on.

1. Empathy & Communication.
I had insight into the minds of the characters. I’m an empathetic person already, but reading really showed me that some people think like me and others don’t, that people want different things… I got a closer view of how they worked things out. It gave me more options for how I might address something, and more patience for others that might see things differently. I felt like the characters were my friends, and cheered for their victories.. so when they acted like idiots and shot themselves in the foot, I still loved and felt empathy for them. Then I was able to apply the same logic when my own friends were horrible to me, and practice forgiveness. I realize now when looking back, that reading a lot probably helped me develop empathy, communication skills and understanding. Not that it was lacking before per se compared to the next kid my age, but being that deep inside other people’s processes must have affected communication.

2. Vocabulary & Grammar.
I had a really easy time writing papers, much earlier than anyone else. I had better vocabulary, my sentences were organized and I understood how thoughts out to progress, intuitively.

3. Values & Inevitabilities.
Watching characters work out tough decisions must have had an impact on my own values. When a character in Les Mis is dying and asks someone to look after her daughter, and he agrees, and then runs away from the cops to avoid a prison sentence that was hanging over his head, so he can take care of her…. and lives in hiding.. these are not easy choices to make but , alas , he made them. My favorite character sacrificed her life, taking a bullet for the man she loved, because he loved someone else and he decided that if she couldn’t be happy, at least he could. Such themes made me think about what love means, what sacrifice is enough or too much, whether she really loved this guy or was just obsessed, what life is worth, how death can come at any time. It forced me to face the harsh realities of life at a young age, which also helped me address things like illness, death, obsession, love and so forth, in my mind, in ways I might not have been able to before.

4. Not taking things for granted.
When you read about poverty, death, illness, divorce, breakups, starvation, war… it’s impossible to take what you have for granted. At least for me. Getting back to empathy again, it also causes me to look at people who have less, in a different light. But that said, it can also afford empathy for people who have MORE, which, for some people, is harder.

5. Perspective shifts.
Speaking of not taking things for granted, I’ll mention that understanding somenoe else’s thought patterns helps with more than empathy. It actually broadens perspectives.

6. Scenery, Beauty, Archetypes.
I’ve had vivid dreams all my life. When reading, I always pictured the scenery and the people being described, and this lent itself to me developing an extremely powerful imagination. My dream life is full of symbolism and I have an innate unconscious AND conscious relationship with archetypal symbols; I often wonder whether this applies to everyone or if mine was heightened by reading so much. My dreams are simply primordial. When I read about what things mean I can hardly believe how accurate these things show up in my art, writing and dreams. It’s uncanny.

7. Hope.
Ever feel like you’re stuck inside your life? Well, I don’t; not even when I’m sick. There’s always another world, either in my imagination or inside a book. I’m not an escapist per se; books bring me deeper into the darker parts of my own mind. But knowing there are other ways to live, other places, other people, other types of relationships…. and feeling like I’m part of them, by reading… it can really lighten my step and put my own petty problems – or even my real problems – into perspective. 

8. Imagination & Creativity.
When you see the same things, same people, same places every day, shit starts getting stale. Books force your mind to conceive of something more, really immerse you in other experience. This enhances perception, perspective, imagination. I am not a fan of video games and too many movies, because they feed people too much. There might be people out there who read TOO MUCH, as in they just forget about their actual life, and I’m not that way (I hardly even read anymore)… but a lot of reading enhances use of the imagination and makes you MORE creative, rather than providing the instant gratification and spoon-feeding of the moving picture.