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As many of you can see, I've been a pretty terrible blogger lately! What can I say...Life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Discussion Topic: Why do people read fiction?

In honor of the current poll, “What is (are) your primary reason(s) for reading?” I present a new discussion topic. So, read it over, let me know what you think, and then go and vote on the poll at the bottom of this page if you haven’t done so already (You only have TWO days left!!!)

Why do people read fiction? Interesting question, huh? I never really thought to ask it until I came upon a forum online where someone asked this…

“I don't understand human behavior. Why do people read and watch fiction books and dramas? It seems like a waste of time.”

Am I wasting my time?

As you can imagine, there was an out roar of replies, justifying reasons why we crazy humans “waste” our time with such insanity!!! Here’s what they had to say…

1.     The capacity to imagine alternative, unrealized future possibilities --- which is essentially the capacity for abstraction and language -- is a key adaptation of the human species. Storytelling is as old as human society, and as essential to human evolution as walking upright.
2.     Why do people create any form of art? (Painting, poetry, sculpture, music, photography, etc) It's been happening since the dawn of man. It's a way to express oneself creatively. And other people like exploring the product of that creativity, as a way to experience someone else's point of view.
3.     Because they enjoy it? This seems very chatfiltery. (NOTE: Chatfiltery is purposefully posting something inflammatory for the sole purpose of getting a reaction.)
4.     I once thought this way, too. Then I read some good sci-fi books. Contrary to your belief, it is possible (and quite enjoyable) to learn about the nuances of the human condition through fiction. Especially in that it provides perspectives that differ from your own.
5.     What's wrong with people wanting to use their free time as they see fit, even if it's "wasting their time?" This discussion reminds me of my favorite quote from Dead Poets’ Society:  "We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
6.     To travel paths that were unknown to me. To unlock new ides to me. To be told a story. To entertain myself. etc. etc. I'm curious why you feel reading fiction is a waste of time. Is watching a movie a waste of time? Playing an rpg? Or, do you feel everything a person does must be convertible to some sort of tangible profit? It's an odd premise, to my mind.
7.     Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, aren't there enough incredible real-world stories out there, so as to make fiction kind of pointless? People are talking about understanding human behavior and motivation, but can't you also do that by, say, reading a historical biography? Or getting to know a friend better? I've got nothing against fiction, just curious as to how some of you would respond to that.
8.     The "incredible real world stories out there" still get packaged into fictionalized accounts, to varying degrees, before being distributed for the public's consumption. Every story is a filtered account, whether or not it bears the "based on true events" sticker. I read fiction because I like it, and I value it as much as non-fiction because they are basically the same thing: people telling stories that contain some truth.
9.     People do many, many things that may be considered by others to be a "waste of time". It really depends on what you consider "good use of time". Is "good use of time" defined as something that increases your production efficiency? I am not a robot on an automobile assembly line in Detroit, and as such, I do many things solely because doing so gives me pleasure. Reading and watching fictional creations gives me pleasure.
10.  Why do some people cook fantastic meals, when the consumption of a prescribed food diet can easily provide the human body with all the nutrients it requires for proper operation? Why do some people have sex without the intent to procreate? Why do some people play sports, when a scientifically-crafted workout regimen would deliver better results in a more efficient manner? Why do some people converse when there is no crucial information that requires transfer? Because they like to.

And that was just the beginning. As you can see, many people reacted differently.

How would you react?
What would you say to this person?
Do you agree with any of the people above?
Would you add anything to their comments?

Original question and replies were found here… http://ask.metafilter.com/152798/Why-do-people-read-fiction. All names have been left out.


  1. Hi there.. nice post but I couldn't read all cause I'm in dying need of sleep but I will be back.
    I'm following from Simply Stacie's Stumbleupon.

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    Have a great day and your blog looks great! Looking forward to more posts to read :D

  2. I think fiction serves an important purpose. Like music, the imagination is a universal language that every person understands, even if they do not speak it or even fully appreciate it. Creating and adsorbing new perspectives and ideas and expanding the horizons of the imagination is as much a part of the human experience as is breathing.

    In our youth, fiction teaches us about wrong and right, good and evil, rewards and consequences; it teaches us to observe, to reason, and in later years it teaches us to also ponder our own experiences in ways we perhaps would've never otherwise.

    Great truths and ideas often lay outside the realm of factuality. I never feel as if I've wasted time when finishing a well-written work of fiction.

  3. I read fiction because non-fiction is boring.

  4. Being a sucker for fiction, I have the following to say:

    Come to think of it, it is sort of a waste of time, because usually you don't get much out of fiction books/movies or whatever. Once in a while, you may get a moral out of it, or some nice message, but usually it doesn't really make a difference if we've read the book or not, it wont really make such a huge impact on our lives, because, well, because it's not real anyways. Some people like to read fiction because they want to get away from their boring everyday-life which always seems routinal, and so they want to try and put their head into someone else's mind to see what this new person's life is like, and what is really missing in their own lives (usually excitement.)
    I don't know really. though I'm glad you brought it up. :-) Interesting and provokative subject. :-)

    As always, I love your blog. :-)
    TCM @ www.thecreativemuslimah.blogspot.com

  5. Stumbling from STT, thankfully, because I LOVE this post. I think that there is plenty of fiction out there that has an impact on people...it's not just the classics. Although, of course, there is plenty that is really just for fun, an escape, or to stimulate the mind. Provocative topic!

    Kristin :)
    Keenly Kristin

  6. My husband doesn't get fiction. He just reads dull and boring books.

    I personally like to be entertained and I like to escape into someone whose life is more interesting than me.

  7. I've always been a fiction fan, but non-fiction seems a little boring, but facts always come in handy.

  8. Thanks for checking out my blogs and becoming my newest follower.

    I am now following you.

    Have a great day :)


  9. I read fiction because it reflects human life. All literature reflects life, and vice versa. Try writing something you cannot imagine. It is impossible. Therefore, fiction mirrors human imagination. If one desires to expand his or her understanding of the human species, there is no better method than reading fiction.

  10. LOL, I wouldn't have even bothered responding to someone that said that. Like you said, they were just trying to start a fight. I read both fiction and non-fiction.

    Seriously, if someone came up to me and said that ...at a coffee shop, for exmple. I would count to ten and then inquire as to what they do with their spare time....then I would cut their chosen time waster to shreds.

    Books expand your mind without you even realizing it. Say you read The Help by Kathryn Stocke, it isn't just fiction. It gives you a better idea of how it was to really live in the South during the turbulent years of Civil Rights Reform.

  11. Hi, I'm your newest follower via Follow Me Back Tues. Hope you'll consider following me back J

  12. newest follower from blog hop on retail therapy! natalielovins.blogspot.com

  13. Wow, I've got a lot of catching up to do, but this one? Wow. Really?

    I don't know of a single person whose life is so utterly satisfactory and exciting that they don't crave something to make them feel more alive, more vibrant, more experienced, blah blah blah. Some people read, be it fiction or non-fiction, in the end, the result is the same. We read for so many reasons, and the choice between non fiction and fiction is like the choice between heels and flats or curly or waffle fries or the blue tie or the red tie. It's personal preference. Period.

    Now, personally I prefer fiction. I love to escape into different scenarios, experience things vicariously through other characters, but in the end, it's the same reason people do lots of things. Games on Facebook, we create virtual farms, cafes, pets, etc., why? Lots of reasons I suppose. I recently told a friend of mine who was making fun of people who play those games that for me? When life really really sucks? When I feel like a failure because I don't have a job, because I want to sleep all the time, when I feel like I'm not contributing to my own life, much less my family's life, it makes me feel like I can accomplish something good. Silly maybe, but the human mind is a complex machine, and well, I guess stranger things have happened.

    Now I'm rambling so I shall shut my trap :P

  14. Kelly Ann...No problem, head on back when you're all bright eyed! Thanks for following!

    Patrick...Agreed. I feel it too servesa very important purpose. If it didn't, we wouldn't still be publishing such things.

    Matt...I've found some non-fiction to be interesting, but not necessarily fun. Fiction is interesting AND fun. :)

    The Creative Muslimah...Thanks for taking the other side. I agree that a lot of the time I'll pick up a book just because nothing more exciting is going on, but boy does that book make it all better. I am enthralled! and very happy!

    Keenly Kristin...Yes, there is more than the classics out there that are worthwhile and there are things that are purly for entertainment, but they all have their purpose which is a beautiful thing. We may choose just the book that we need. :) Thanks for join in on the topic. It has been a successful one!

    Sara...I too love the escape and I truly believe many people NEED it! Just a chance to let their mind relax, let the stress and worries melt away for a while. It's important for the mind and for our overall health. I know people like your husband, but thankfully many of them have other creative outlets that do the same thing. Many people that I know that DON'T read fiction, find relaxation in building things such as houses, gardens, the interior of a room, etc. (all very creative things). They may paint, draw, play an instrument, all sorts of wonderful things that fill that void. It's very interesting!

    dtwilight...I'm on the exact same page as you. :)

    Sheila...Thank you! Feel free to pop in whenever. We've got some great discussions going!

    JJ...Excellent! I was asked recently where my writing comes from, how my characters are born, and where the plot comes from. My simplest answer was my imagination! The imagination is the most beautiful (and scary) creationists in the who entire universe, and we humans are so lucky to possess it!

    Gwen...That probably would have been the best thing because if this person wasn't just trying to get a riseout of people, then they probably aren't very reasonable. I feel it would have turned into one of the one sided conversations where you are desperately trying to get this person to hear you out and they are just not budging one inch for you.

    Malia (Interesting name!)...Thanks for stopping by and for following. Feel free to join in on any of the conversations!

    Natalie Lovins...Welcome! and thank you for following me. When you get the chance, please join in on any of the conversations!

    Donna...WELCOME BACK!!! I missed you so much!!! I am right there with you. I think it is quite safe to say that no one's life can be satisfactory enough without some kind of creative outlet! And why should fiction be such a waste? It's absolutely preposterous! (Not to mention archaic!)

  15. I think people read fiction for a variety of reasons... for entertainment, that can also be said of reading a biography or history too. as an escape into another world, for fun! to pretend! to see life from someone else eyes, real or not. It makes you think & shows you another way to imagination. thanks for stopping by & the great comment :) hugs, Faythe ~GMT

  16. Hi again. I have now made a list over the books I have read so far this year. It is on my sidebar on my blog. Hope I did it right. =)

  17. I read mostly historical fiction mainly because I want to understand the history but not get bog done with dates and boring facts. I want to read a story of a person going thru the time and how they felt, dealt and experienced the historical period. I have been know to read non fiction but it always takes me longer and I fall asleep quicker:)

  18. GrammyMouseTails...Good. I agree that it doesn't have to just be fiction. That biographies and history can offer just as much of an escape for some people. It really is a wonderful thing.

    a woman's right to shoes...Yes, I checked it out and everything looks to be in tip top shape. Thank you! You're now all set!

    The Adventurer...I really enjoy historical fiction as well and have read lots and lots of it. I also like when historical fiction takes a new stance on history, something that was recently discovered and could change our point of view about a certian period of history. It's fascinating stuff!


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