If you're anything like me, you may not gravitate toward reading fiction. I tend to want immediate and quantifiable results or growth from whichever books I choose to invest my time and resources. So my shelves are filled with mostly non-fiction books that help me grow deeper in my understanding of theology, the church, leadership, writing, finance (and yes, marketing).
What value can we gain from fictional literature? Leland Ryken says:
Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities. For a Christian, they can be God-glorifying, a gift from God to the human race to be accepted with zest.
Here are a few more benefits of reading fiction:
1. Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences.
Fictional literature can help us explore abstract human experiences. Each of us participates in a brotherhood of humanity. And because we share similar experiences, writers of different eras, cultures, and even worldviews can connect with us at a profound level. The best fictional authors spell out our common human experience in ways that prove elusive to other forms of writing. Which is to say, fictional literature may prove at times to be more true than nonfiction.
Novels are free to move beyond the particulars of history to the universals of human experience, to such abstract and philosophical concepts as love, hate, goodness, and evil. With such liberty, the author may probe the human condition more profoundly. Tapping into the soul of human experience, the writer spins a web of believability that is potentially more convincing than the historical account. As the plot thickens, the reader identifies with the probable experience of the fictional characters. The invented story serves to usher the reader into the most important realms of reality.
2. Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experience.
Fictional literature can deepen our appreciation for concrete human experience. By retelling life with words, novelists heighten our sensitivity to common human experiences. Literature gives a depth to human experience and natural beauty. God has gifted authors to focus our attention on things that we take for granted—like the sun-glistened water droplets on a leaf after a hard spring rain—and these images intensify our experience of the world we see around us.
3. Fiction expands our range of experiences.
Fictional literature expands our range of experiences. We get one chance at this life. We have one body, one mind, and one life to live. Reading provides us with a vicarious experience of others’ lives. Literature introduces us to the lives and experiences and thoughts and affections of others, even if those characters are the product of an author’s wild imagination. By doing so, literature expands our own experiences and causes us to grow in our sympathy toward others. Through literature we can taste the life experiences of those who live in lands that are distant, cultures that are distinct, and in generations that are now extinct.
4. Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed.
Fictional literature provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed. The best fiction is beautiful, and this beauty finds its origin in God’s beauty. We discover beautiful literature because our Creator has endowed our world with artists who reflect the beauty that originates in him. This beautiful literature can be enjoyed for the glory of God even if it comes from the fingertips of a non-Christian, Christians can and should read literature simply for the pleasure of it.
By appreciating the beauty of literature, we honor God, the Giver of all beauty. Those are a few reasons why we should embrace fiction “with zest.”
This article is adapted from Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke.
Leland Ryken compels us to focus on both the content and the form of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
I believe that Augustine's masterpiece is a largely unread book because people approach it with the wrong expectations, quickly become frustrated, and leave the book unfinished.