On Learning

Why You Should Read Literature

I have not been a consistent reader for a long time. I picked up the habit around 8 months ago. At the start, I read almost exclusively non-fiction books on philosophy, psychology, and self-improvement. I liked the feeling of growth, and I became addicted to it. Luckily this reading habit has stuck, but I have been in the process of diversifying the genres of books that I am reading. Here are three reasons why I did this, and why I think you should give literature a try if you haven’t.

Literature Shows New Perspectives

We live solely inside of our own minds. Our framework for interpreting the world is so deeply ingrained that we can form perspectives in an instant. This framework is necessary; without it, we become paralyzed. Yet, we have to remember that we could be entirely wrong. For example, it’s a fairly common implicit assumption that other people think like us. We often prescribe motives to the actions of people around us by asking ourselves “what would I have felt, thought, or done in their position.” The trouble with this is the assumption that we act completely reasonably, and everyone who has their head on straight would react similarly. It ends up being a tricky form of pride. Literature provides a channel for us to peek into someone else’s mind. We get to see their thoughts. We often share thoughts in casual conversation, but we can’t spend hours on end sharing every thought we have. It’s not realistic, or wise. But Literature allows us to see a character’s every thought. Even the most embarrassing and private thoughts that no person would share in reality can be observed. After all, it is fiction. But these personal thoughts matter. They allow us to feel a sense of community. They show us things we need to reassess. They help us broaden our perspectives. Literature gives readers the chance to see the world according to someone else.

Literature Draws You In

While I didn’t start with fiction, it seems (anecdotally) that reading non-fiction is not the most common origin of a strong reading habit. Most people I speak to read more fiction than anything else. They often say that they grew up on fiction, and it was the thing that enabled them to fall in love with reading. I’ve recently started to feel the same affinity for fiction. I started A Gentleman in Moscow, a historical fiction novel about a fellow who is imprisoned in a hotel. I’ve found a connection with these characters. I find myself wanting to get back into this story. I’m convinced that if I had sat down and read this book three or four years ago, I would have been an avid reader for quite some time now. Literature is the easiest way that I’m aware of to cultivate a love for reading. Now, the value of reading as a habit and skill is a topic for another day, but I’d hope we can agree that it’s a pretty good habit to develop.

Literature Allow Discovery

A great story has meaning interwoven throughout the narrative. It has something more than clever lines and interesting dialogue. It has a soul. And from this, you can learn tremendously useful things. As I have said, I like reading non-fiction. It tends to have all of the premises and conclusions laid out in a semi-coherent manner. The trouble with this is that you don’t have to earn the information. You don’t have to connect the dots as much. All the dots have been connected for you. But not so in literature! The reader is forced to think, discover, and form their own perspective on the happenings of the story. And as you think about the story, you learn things. Things that are so exciting and personal. Things that can change the reader’s life just as much as a pithy line from your favorite philosopher.

More on Literature

If you’d like to hear more about literature, check out my friend Montgomery Drumm’s blog “Bookin Profits” He has some wonderful content that I’ve enjoyed, and I’m sure you would too. One piece of his that stood out to me is titled “Purpose in Moby Dick.” I found it terribly interesting. Feel free to give it a read and tell him what you think.

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