Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Read Fiction?

This is a college essay I wrote last year, one of my favorite college essays to write, and I thought I’d share it here. (For the record, I got in.)
Pose an original question and answer it. (500 words).

Q: What can we learn from fiction?

A: Most people agree that reading is good for your mind. Many of them, however, also seem to limit that statement to reading non-fiction, and see reading fiction as a waste of one’s time. I would argue, however, that fiction, even when it takes place in a world very different from our own, can be very educational. Certainly, we can learn concrete facts from fiction, about far-off places or historical time periods, but there is much, much more to be gained from reading fiction than what is easily quantifiable by a multiple-choice test.

John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” taught me that everyone has logical reasons and motivations for what they do, even if they just seem irrational from the outside. Alaska, who is as real as anyone I’ve ever known, behaves in erratic, irrational ways, but it all makes sense, knowing the details, and that applies to real life, too; as crazy as people seem, they have their reasons. Fictional characters such as the cast of Siobhan Vivian’s “A Little Friendly Advice” provide invaluable insight into the interactions and relationships between people. Vivian’s book explores in detail familial, friendly, and romantic relationships, and these relationships are far from picture-perfect–they’re true-to-life and messy. It might be impossible to quiz people on social interactions or the reasons for their behavior in reality, but fiction provides us that opportunity.

Harper Lee’s powerful words in “To Kill A Mockingbird” would not communicate her brilliant understanding of humanity half as well if their author didn’t have such skill with words. From fiction, we learn the potency of language and how to best wield that power by expressing ourselves in writing. We learn by example how to articulate our thoughts, hopes, fears, and the stories (fiction and non-fiction) that must be told. We learn to communicate with other people. We learn what methods are effective and which leave the reader bored to tears. Even if one never really pursues writing, the communication skills gained by reading fiction are essential.

Fiction teaches us about possibilities. It teaches us to dream of far-off places or ambitious goals, and not to give up on those dreams, but to reach as high as we can and then leap. Fiction lets us touch our dreams through words on a page, and hope they can be even more tangible someday. I am sorry for anyone who can’t see the value of fiction; I’m sorry for anyone who has lost their imagination. Without fiction, I imagine I would be a different person, a person who accepted what life gave me and never reached for anything more. We are all capable of more than what is handed to us in life, however much or little that is. Fiction teaches us that, and so much more, if only we feed our imaginations with fiction rather than ignoring it in favor of only that which we consider to be real.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're back, Jocelyn! And I love this've captured the main idea of fiction so perfectly.