The debate over fiction and nonfiction is a battle between escapism and reality. Fictional stories immerse readers in vast worlds with intriguing characters, while nonfiction books expand readers’ horizons in the real world.
There is an ongoing debate over which is more useful for readers to consume.
In our world of literature, nonfiction is often considered more educational and useful than fiction. While nonfiction deals with the more pressing matters of the real world, fiction distracts readers with entertainment. Just the word escapism carries a negative connotation. If it weren’t for some extra vocabulary, reading a story might be the same as watching a movie.
Fiction is a reader’s lens to view the world through a different perspective. Experiencing a fictional character’s life produces empathy in a way that cold facts fail to achieve. A Canadian research group led by Keith Oatley found that reading literary fiction greatly increased readers’ abilities to assess emotions and social situations. In a world where EQ (emotional quotient) often trumps IQ, empathy is extremely important. It increases a reader’s sense of morality, often through the repeated use of poetic justice. By ending most stories with the villains defeated, fiction reinforces that justice should triumph. On the other hand, only reading about the real world can create a feeling that life is cruel, and nothing can change that fact. Fiction readers have a less rigid line of thinking, and are more adaptable and comfortable with uncertainty.
Especially in children, fiction stimulates imagination and creativity, which in my opinion are just as important as knowledge. Imagination inspires dreams, creates goals, and makes the world seem more beautiful. It transports readers away from the mundanity of life. Happiness and relaxation are good things.
Many people dismiss fiction because they think it provides no tangible benefit to the mind. They believe knowledge and facts are extracted from truth, not stories. But can’t we learn from stories too? Who would argue that 1984 didn’t teach us about the dangers of authoritarian governments? Or that To Kill A Mockingbird didn’t highlight racial tensions? My point is, fiction can educate the public with the same effectiveness as nonfiction, and sometimes in a more convincing manner.
Fiction should stay with readers throughout their entire lives. Don’t cast away the creativity of childhood as you transition into adulthood. Of course, nonfiction is equally important, and we all want a balance of dreams and reality. So read a little of both, however much longer one might take compared to the other. Collect information and insight, while cultivating creativity. Reap the best of both genres!