Why do we read fiction?

I think it’s a good question really. Nonfiction is obvious, because for that we want to learn something new, or something which can be useful to help us solve a problem, or do something we want doing. Fiction, that is a completely different ball game.

A cursory glance at Kindle on Amazon shows us that there are over twenty two thousand categories of books on their market, the vast majority of which are dedicated to fiction. Break down the obvious genres of fiction such as Romance, Science Fiction, Murder Mystery, Horror and others, and you get many more sub categories. Each of these is broken down into yet more categories and each of those into ever smaller categories.

The point of all this is to prove just how varied our tastes are in fiction. We don’t all like one type of book, even if we like the same genres, how a particular book works can be attractive to us, and our imaginations, where for others it might not be. If enough people like this, then more will buy those types of books, and more will write for them, to cater for sales.

The most important element of all this is the reader, because there would be no point in writing if no one read it. However, the reader isn’t entirely passive in this experience, because as I have said, imagination plays a huge part in the experience of reading fiction.

If we entirely relied on what we read, those words and the expressed actions, and ignored any descriptions of characters or settings, the details that flesh out a book, then what would separate a book from a film? With a film we are much more passive with our thoughts, except our emotions come into play. Of course they do in a book, but we feel much more in control of our emotions when reading a book, because we decide how we internally visualize what we read, and we decide how much emotional attachment we accept with the book’s characters and what occurs.

So clearly when reading a book, we invest much more imagination in what we read, and shape in our minds what we see, feel and think about events. We are guided much less by a book than any other medium.

So for the deeply personal experience that reading allows us, books of fiction are surely the most unique experience we can have. Books are renowned for being deeper and more detailed than any television series could be, or any film, which are always constrained by running times and productions costs. Books never suffer this. A prime example of this is Stephen King’s The Stand, of which the unabridged version was over a thousand pages. Miniseries that attempted to recreate the vast book never truly captured the essence of the characters and events.

So why do we read fiction so much? I believe it is because we are transported there, either as a character in the book, or as a fly on the wall, and at our own pace we can explore the world the writer has given us.

It really is a unique concept, and an important one for us all. I’m just proud to be able to sit on both sides of the fence on this, creator and reader.

Email: djcowdall@gmx.co.uk