Being in university, we’ve all grown accustomed to reading research papers and academic studies. Unless you’re taking English or literature courses, your novels are probably collecting dust or waiting to be read during a break. But when that time comes around, you’re so tired of reading that you’d much prefer an activity that doesn’t involve consuming long passages of text for hours on end. Last year, when I was drowning in scientific papers and textbook readings, picking up a novel felt less like a leisurely learning experience and more like a waste of time — something that would distract me from my other courses. Reading fiction is often associated with entertainment rather than learning, however — as I have discovered — it is probably the most eye-opening and true-to-life literary genre.
The amount of reading required in our academic careers can be overwhelming. It’s easy to see why some people would underestimate seemingly superfluous genres. We think of fiction as basic stories of monstrous creatures and magical Greek islands, when really these tales have a lot to teach us about the world we’re living in today. The Odyssey cannot be reduced solely to a king battling various mythical monsters on his journey home. What are the lengths someone will go to return to their family? When a great hero is on his knees begging to go home, one can’t help but be reminded of the importance of loved ones. Fiction does not solely provide entertainment; it teaches us lessons about our world and ourselves.
It is probably the most eye-opening and true-to-life literary genre to exist.
Reading literary fiction can even improve our empathy. It asks us to step into a character’s life and understand his or her choices. In Frankenstein, the creature is presented as a monstrous being, undeserving of love from the perspective of his creator. The novel challenges us to consider the perspective of multiple characters, including the creature. We are asked to be active readers and assume different roles as the narration shifts from character to character. Despite subjective interpretations of the piece, every reader undoubtedly learns how to relate. If we can step into a fictional world and empathize with characters we come to know in the span of two hundred pages, we can apply that skill to our own lives. The way you form strong bonds with people and connect with others depends on your ability to see the world through their eyes.
So is fiction a waste of time? It doesn’t detract from your schoolwork. It enhances your perspectives and critical thinking by allowing you to see the world in a new light. You cannot come away from a few hours of reading unchanged. When you read fiction, consciously or not, you relate differently to your own life. Whether you have to escape to Ithaca, or pay a visit to Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory, you gain insight into humanity. Even if you may not recognize it, you are learning.