My wife, Debra, and my oldest daughter used to work at a used bookstore in Old Town Manassas. They loved conversations with customers about fiction and non-fiction books, history, and life. They also loved giving recommendations when a customer was looking for something new.
One day my wife was ringing up a sale for a woman who was buying a couple of non-fiction books. As they were talking, the woman told her very adamantly that fiction was a complete waste of time. Debra was speechless and so was I when she shared the story with me.
This got me thinking. People who do not read fiction are missing out on timeless truths and values from a relational perspective. I’ll try to explain. There are many great books on leadership, marketing, and business that tell you how to apply principles and strategies. I can think of a handful of books that have made an impact in my life like John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership or Collins’ Good to Great. I have applied their principles to my business and leadership opportunities, but it is the fiction that often drives home these principles. Why? It is because I bond with characters in the story as they wrestle with the principles. I relate to the characters. I see myself as those characters. I learn from them.
I’ll give you an example. Many leadership books talk about how grudges can destroy business and family relationships and drive the grudge holder to make irrational, selfish decisions. In theory, I understand this, but it wasn’t until I read Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel that I truly understood in a story setting. A life-long grudge will rob a person of life, joy, and passion. As I entered the story I realized that could be me and what I can do to prevent it.
A few years ago, I stopped reading fiction as a new business owner. I thought I needed to learn as much as I can from business and leadership books. What happened was I stopped learning. The same principles were being told in a different format over and over. It wasn’t until my wife told me about the encounter with the lady that I started thinking about all the great fiction I have ready from Crime and Punishment and Jane Eyre to the Hunger Games and the Lord of the Rings. I realized at that time that fiction is just as valuable as non-fiction…if not more valuable. I forgot that there is so much I can learn from fiction.
Since then, I have begun to read fiction again, mostly before bed, to unwind and enjoy a good story. It is a way to step out of reality for a bit and give my mind a break, but also to learn the truths and principles from a different perspective. I recently finished the Harry Potter series. I was immediately drawn into the story from the moment Harry entered Hogwarts to the end. Throughout the series, I was happy, sad, angry, and frustrated with different characters at different times. I related to each character in one way or another and watched how they handled their fears and struggles. If you are a marketing or business leader and have not read Harry Potter, you can learn a great deal from Potter, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, and Snape.
All this to say, fiction is very valuable and shouldn’t be blown off as a waste of time. To think that, I believe, is true ignorance. Take time to read fiction. It is because of my wife that I love to read. Her love for books and many, many recommendations over the years has opened my eyes to a new level of enjoyment and learning.
Pick up a fiction book if for nothing else, to relax, enjoy a good story, and to give your mind a break…but also see the value in learning from the many authors who help us see ourselves when we enter into their stories.
Not sure where to start? Here are some of my favorites:
- My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok
- Kane and Abel – Jeffrey Archer
- Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
- Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English – Natasha Solomons
- The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
- The Mark of the Lion Trilogy – Francine Rivers
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Life with Pi – Yann Martel
- The Giver – Lois Lowry