Why I Read Fiction

July 2, 2018

Categories: Growth

This past week, I picked up the John Le Carre spy novel, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It’s a thick book, and it will take me quite a while to read it. Reading the book probably won’t teach me something important that will contribute to my overall success in life. But it’s good for my soul.

I can be a bit of an intense person. I am constantly learning, thinking, writing, and discussing ideas. I think a lot about how I can be more effective, improve, and be a better teacher, writer, friend, and Christian. Maybe you can relate to this push, always striving to be better. It can be exhausting.

As a psychologist, I’m very interested in people’s choices. Some choices are big, and tell a lot about a person. What does a person choose to do for their career? Who does a person marry? What does a person decide to do about God and faith? But I also think that you can tell a lot about a person by their small choices that occur every day. What does a person watch on television? Do they order a small or large coffee at Starbucks? What kinds of books do they read?

If you look at the kinds of books that I tend to read, I think it paints an interesting picture of who I am. For example, The Encore Effect, a book about how to give extraordinary performances that keep people wanting more. Resonate, a book about how to give excellent presentations at work. The Benefit of the Doubt, a book about the positive role that doubt and wrestling with God can have in your faith.

These books are all about improving, getting better, and making progress. And that’s okay to a point. But I think there is a downside to this focus on progress. Namely, when all I’m focused on is improving and getting better, sometimes it’s hard to love myself where I am right now. I forget that God’s grace and mercy touches every part of me, even the parts that aren’t improving fast enough for my liking.

I think that’s why I read fiction. Tyrion Lannister reminds me to relax and not take myself so seriously. Harry Potter tells me that there is a time to work and improve, but also a time to rest and just be. Reading about the adventures of Frodo Baggins, warm under a blanket with a hot cup of tea… Why, that’s grace.

Discussion: What kinds of books do you read? What might this say about you?


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  1. John July 3, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I typically have three books going at any given time that fit into different reading slots during the day. In the morning, I like to read books that take more time to get through and invite deep reflection. During the work day, I’ll carve out time for books that sharpen me professionally. And then the evenings are typically reserved for fiction and biography, which require less mental energy.

  2. Mary Ann Ryan July 3, 2018 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Thank You for very thought provoking writing. I really enjoy reading. I’m in a couple of reading groups. Problem I have if the choice for the group is filled with sadness and evil toward others I simply can’t read that type of book. I find myself feeling utterly hopeless for how I can make a difference in the world. Therefore I really appreciate works that promote the positive side of humanity. Biographies and wonderful and inspiring as are works of fiction that show characters working through hardship.

    • Vanessa Malinowski July 3, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      Mary Ann,

      I feel you. I don’t like abuse of any kind, and I don’t understand why some people get a rise out of reading about pain. I think most people read about the tragic in order to learn and stay informed. Utterly hopeless is a deep feeling, so it the positive side of humanity. Even small things such as taking the time to listen to a friend or giving a sincere smile help make the world a better place; people who appreciate kindness can feel very joyful when given it in these ways – I speak for myself, a perfectionist/striver of excellence at that. You can make people feel big in a good way by giving meaningful messages; enough of these are life-changing, no?

      ~Vanessa M.

  3. Joshua Hook July 3, 2018 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    John, that’s a great method (and I’m jealous that you have so much time for reading)!

    Mary Ann, it does seem like we get enough sadness and evil with the news, eh?

  4. Vanessa Malinowski July 3, 2018 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    Hi Dr. Hook,

    Another great post, thanks! Hmm. I read a lot of personal growth books, and some are specifically about how to do well now, so to me that counts with what you’re writing about. Chicken Soup for the Soul series are great.

    I don’t feel like I’m being gypped out of the present when I focus on the future; because what I do now gets me where I want to be, and I back-track a lot from end goals, but I need to know what they are. I’m competitive with myself, and I get motivated, I gain energy, from reading about others successes, like in the Guinness book of World Records, and creating my own.

    Otherwise I’ll read whatever looks good at the moment, topics I just happen to like. Books about animals, food, fave celebs, and geographical locations are fun.

    ~Vanessa M.

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