Fiction is worth reading (and here are my favorite novels and other fiction books)

Throughout history, storytelling has been an important part of cultures. And yet, fiction often gets a bad rap. Some people think it’s frivolous. Others think it’s a waste of time to be reading something that isn’t practical, that doesn’t “teach” you anything. Some call it “just entertainment.”

But reading fiction is more than “just entertainment.”

Yes, reading fiction is pleasurable, but the best stories and novels contain wisdom that cannot easily be captured or shared. The human condition is complex and contradictory, wonderful and difficult, and great fiction reflects that complexity. I find it magical that different people glean different insights from the same novel. And when you read a novel several times (as I have with my favorites listed below), each time feels like a visit with an old friend where you gain new insights from her.

A great novel sparks many interpretations. Its meanings originate in the author as well as the culture and society where (and when) the book was written. But those meanings change with our own experiences, thoughts, and times. After we read a work of fiction, we put it down with new understandings of the world around us and of ourselves. Fiction helps us to explore ideas of change, complex emotions, human interactions, and the unknown.

What can reading fiction do for you?

So yes, I think fiction and poetry are worthwhile reads. But more than that, reading fiction can help make people more open-minded, inclusive, and tolerant. And fiction has been shown to be essential in developing empathy, while poetry has been shown to develop creative skills. As Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

The neuroscience behind this seems to be simple. Your brain (apparently) does not distinguish between reading about an experience and living it yourself — both experiences trigger the exact same response in your brain. So by reading, you allow your brain to experience other people’s realities, emotions, and thoughts. Amazing!

As a business person, I value being able to make sense of complexity with incomplete information. I find that this skill allows people to make educated guesses and more quickly make decisions. And researchers have found that fiction readers had less need for “cognitive closure” than those who read non-fiction — they are more okay with uncertainty and incomplete information!

Let us not forget that as machine learning and artificial intelligence become more advanced, it will be the skills that are uniquely human that become truly valuable. The future of work is coming quickly. With that in mind, more and more educators and business leaders are coming to realize the importance of “soft skills” such as empathy, creativity, and the ability to make sense of complexity with incomplete information. And we’ve all been reading more about the importance of play in child development (and for adults and their well-being). Accordingly, I suspect we’ll see a revival in interest in fiction, poetry, theatre, and the arts in general.

Need more reasons to read fiction?

Some, including Tim Ferris, swear by reading fiction before bed to help get a better night’s sleep!

Have I convinced you to consider reading fiction? Take a look at my short list of favorite novels and other fiction books.

The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho
Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy
Shopgirl: a Novella by Steve Martin

Historical Fiction
Forever: A Novel by Pete Hamill
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Time and Again by Jack Finney

Short Stories
Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales by Ray Bradbury

Other Fiction
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Looking for something a little more serious to read in 2019? Check out my Books to live by post.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I love hearing your suggestions!

I currently have these checked out from my local library:
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Which one should I start reading first?!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.