Why Read Fiction?

This is a short exploratory paper I wrote for my English class in my senior year of High School, arguing for the need to read and study fiction. It has been slightly edited for clarity and punctuation, but for the most part the content is identical to what I turned in to my teacher on September 5th, 2013.

There are several reasons why one should read and study fiction. For those who do not fully understand, fiction writing can be dismissed as unimportant, something that serves no purpose other than to amuse and distract from what is truly important. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. As Andrew Slack has said, “Fantasy is not an escape from our world, but an invitation to go deeper into it.” While the imaginative worlds of others do capture one’s attention and pull it away from their day to day life, afterwards the experience of visiting this world is forever within them. Fiction affects all who read it, and in a good way. It gives a person the opportunity to imagine what they might not have before, and experience life differently.

Take Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example. If a girl was at the beginning of her high school career, with no one for company but her books, and she picked up a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it might very much change her life. Charlie’s struggles with friendship and overcoming his passivity could help her through her own struggles. The book could show her that there are genuinely good people in the world, and that she is not alone. Or perhaps there is a boy in middle school who hates his overprotective family and takes his life for granted. Then he reads about Harry Potter, an orphan boy who wants nothing more than a loving family. Harry’s story will inspire the boy to appreciate his family, and focus himself on becoming a better person.

Of course, not all stories are as inspirational and life changing as Harry Potter and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Different stories have different nutritional values after all. That is to say that all fiction stories are of varying quality; however, that quality depends on the person reading. When eating food, obviously everyone needs the basics. Nevertheless an athlete needs more protein, someone anemic needs more iron, and a teacher needs more caffeine. So it also makes sense that different people also need to read different things.

One teenager may gain as much food for thought from Graceling by Kristin Cashore as another does from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Each book contains characters coming into their own, their trials and triumphs. However, their characters are wildly different. The protagonist of Graceling is an intelligent, powerful, realistic and fiercely independent young woman, who breaks free of what is expected and carves her own path. The protagonist of Great Expectations is a young man who, while he has a good conscience, is limited by his narrow perception of the world and his own idealistic desires. A person learns different things and thinks about different things when reading these contrasting novels; however, they can both be equally important for the mental enrichment of an individual. This is because both of them deal with raw human emotion and experience, which are really the two driving elements needed for a tale worthy of attention.

In brief, fiction matters because it is what truly drives the human race forward by invoking feelings inside of a person that they wouldn’t otherwise feel. When a person reads a work of fiction they bring part of it inside of themself and it stays there. Fiction is a way for people to live a life that is not their own. That is not escaping their life; it is expanding their perception of all life, and that is beautiful.

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