Fiction-Shaming: Is Reading Fiction as an Adult Something to be Ashamed Of?
“Hello, my name is Kaisha Langton and I am a Bibliophile.”
Echoing the sentiment of any congregation of addicted souls, I am an addict. There's a number of things in my life thatI say that I couldn't live without: as a girly girl, my makeup, as a caffeine-deprived millennial my cans of coke, and as a sun worshipper, my collection of sunglasses all make my list. However, in reality, there are few things that I could really not acclimate to life without: family, friends and books are those which I would classify as truly vital for my survival. I am a self-confessed book addict. I have loved them in all their glory since I was a young girl, munching with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, laughing with Charlotte and Wilbur and waiting every morning for the postman to deliver my Hogwarts letter. When it comes to books, in all their shapes and sizes, their new and vintage states, every genre, writing style and context, I unashamedly appreciate them all. With novels more than with anything else, I endeavour to never judge a book by its cover. I hoard and treasure them, and look forward to each and every bookish treat with earnest delight and unadulterated pleasure.
However, during my foray into dating apps, I have found that being a fiction-lover can be considered a flaw. Once you've expressed that you adore written works, the right-swiper pipes up with their latest "Oh don't I sound so smart" reading experience, which in turns almost demands a congratulatory "Oh, what a smart chap you are." But Mr Oh So Smart, isn't half as impressed that I'm reading The Virgin Suicides, A Passage to India, and Brighton Rock. This natural predisposition to turn one's nose up at fictional texts is not something i've encountered before. Granted, i have been privileged enough to study English Literature and thus have associated with crowds of likeminded individuals, but this judgement is truly bewildering to me. There seems to have been an invisible age line where fictional books were acceptable and then suddenly not. Instead, they are now dubbed childish or merely a form of entertainment likened to Netflix or mindless reality television. In fact, in a GQ Interview from 2013, Noel Gallagher stated: “I only read factual books. Novels are just a waste of f**king time.”
In spite of the colourful language, Noel Gallagher with his blunt statement seems to speak to the thoughts of many out there. Naturally, this statement would elicit an aggravated response, but I wanted to understand where this prejudice came from and if there was any real merit to this opinion, was I turning my brain to mush by sticking to fiction?
The intellectual benefits of reading factual texts are evident. If one were to read a book about the Cold War, then they are highly likely to learn something new about the ColdWar. That much is rather clear. However, it is perhaps more difficult for one to ascertain the academic benefits of reading about a made up world, with made up characters, going through a made up series of events. When there is so much to learn from texts discussing history, or the frontiers of scientific discovery, or contemporary experiments regarding the human condition, why should we as a human race spend our limited leisure time and leisure pound on works of fictions, when its purpose can only be seen as selfish enjoyment and entertainment.
As children, we are raised reading about the intensely imagined fictional worlds of Narnia, of Hogwarts and of the mystical world down the rabbit hole with Alice. But, much like the truth about the tooth fairy, with age we lose the right to boundless imaginative liberty. As adults, instead, we are encouraged to read those works which engage with universal realities and answer the large questions at play in society.
Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York university and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, have reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009, that reading fiction enables people to develop fundamental emotional intelligence. The studies revealed that fiction readers scored higher in reading emotions of others, which means that reading fiction can be understood as an impactful force upon how well we can understand our peers. Furthermore, the studies showed that fiction readers displayed increased empathy and were more comfortable with ambiguity. Each of these factors essentially indicate that whilst fiction may not bestow unto us quantifiable fact, it is having irrefutable benefits.
So to summarise, there are benefits to reading anything and everything. Fiction is not in any way, less impressive and stimulating. To be comfortable with a fictional life, to enjoy the imaginative and creative freedoms of a fictitious world, takes us back to being children, and I truly believe that this in fact permits our brains to improve permeability, soaking up knowledge to a greater depth than before. So please, from now on, enjoy your non-fiction texts, I'm very impressed that you're reading at all, but please keep your judgements at the door.