Why do people read fiction?
May 3, 2010 5:58 AM   Subscribe

I don't understand human behavior. Why do people read and watch fiction books and dramas? It seems like a waste of time.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I read fiction because I enjoy it, and because it gives me a deeper understanding of human behaviour and motivation. It's a view inside someone else's head.
posted by handee at 6:00 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

People generally do things because they benefit in some way from doing those things. Reading fiction might be a form of escapism, or passing the time, or learning, or possibly something else entirely. Perhaps they just generally enjoy it.

The rules that you apply top the world [reading fiction is a waste of time] aren't the rules that other people apply to the world.
posted by Solomon at 6:01 AM on May 3, 2010

Because they enjoy it? This seems very chatfiltery.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:01 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's wrong with wasting time?
posted by box at 6:02 AM on May 3, 2010 [13 favorites]

I don't understand human behavior. Why do people read and watch fiction books and dramas?

To help them understand human behaviour?
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:05 AM on May 3, 2010 [74 favorites]

Why do people create any form of art? (Painting, poetry, sculpture, music, photography, etc) It's been happening since the dawn of man. It's a way to express oneself creatively. And other people like exploring the product of that creativity, as a way to experience someone else's point of view.

Do you not enjoy anything creative? Or is it just fiction books and movies that you don't understand?
posted by Grither at 6:06 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

The capacity to imagine alternative, unrealized future possibilities --- which is essentially the capacity for abstraction and language -- is a key adaptation of the human species. Storytelling is as old as human society, and as essential to human evolution as walking upright.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:09 AM on May 3, 2010

posted by limeonaire at 6:09 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

From your previous questions, it appears you like camping and doing things outdoors. Why do you do this? You have a bed in your home and could go to the gym to get in shape. Because you enjoy them.
posted by proj at 6:12 AM on May 3, 2010 [12 favorites]

I once thought this way, too. Then I read some good sci fi books. Contrary to your belief, it is possible (and quite enjoyable) to learn about the nuances of the human condition through fiction. Especially in that it provides perspectives that differ from your own.
posted by gnutron at 6:14 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The capacity to imagine alternative, unrealized future possibilities

I should also add, the capacity to remember and thus transmit knowledge of prior situations is an equally important adaptation associated with language in general, narrative in particular.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:15 AM on May 3, 2010

What's wrong with people wanting to use their free time as they see fit, even if it's "wasting their time?" Also Grither makes a very good point. This discussion reminds me of my favorite quote from Dead Poet's Society:

"We dont read and write poetry because its cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:19 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

We all tell stories about ourselves, whether we acknowledge them as such or not, and whether we have anyone else to talk to or not.

We create a narrative in our head of how the day went, excising literally thousands of details, creating a distilled version of our own lives that we commit to memory. We gloss over certain moments (we don't mention the 10 seconds waiting at the bank where we couldn't help but fantasize about the man in front of us), we exaggerate certain behavior (was the saleswoman really cackling?), and we end up with a story, one that doesn't necessarily resemble our lives closely. We're not consciously creating fiction - it's just prebuilt into us to create narratives from lived experience.

We might tell that story to someone else. We might just tell it to ourselves. It's still a story. And we never stop creating them.

In other words, we all write a form of fiction, without ever intending to do so. One crucial appeal of well-written literature is that it always us to compare the way that we process our own lives into a story, to the way that another person does the same thing - without the presentational and face-saving biases of a real person.

To know that a character is like us, and their inner life includes the same cringing that ours does - or, conversely, to know that they are utterly free of our thinking habits - provides an avenue wherein we can compare ourselves to other humans in a way that non-fiction, and documentary film, can not quite do. Non-fictional narrative will always be an approximation of another, real-life person. That person will either be presenting him or her self (and therefore can never be truly open), or is being presented by another (and therefore, like us, incapable of being fully understood from the outside).

I'll include a recent real-life example. The following is an excerpt from The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, that helped me reflect a bit more deeply on my own fear of death through the filter of a character's thought process:

Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.
posted by Ash3000 at 6:46 AM on May 3, 2010 [25 favorites]

To travel paths that were unknown to me. To unlock new ides to me. To be told a story. To entertain myself. etc. etc.

I'm curious why you feel reading fiction is a waste of time. Is watching a movie a waste of time? Playing an rpg? Or, do you feel everything a person does must be convertible to some sort of tangible profit? It's an odd premise, to my mind.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, aren't there enough incredible real-world stories out there, so as to make fiction kind of pointless? People are talking about understanding human behavior and motivation, but can't you also do that by, say, reading a historical biography? Or getting to know a friend better?

I've got nothing against fiction, just curious as to how some of you would respond to that.
posted by goateebird at 7:02 AM on May 3, 2010

The "incredible real world stories out there" still get packaged into fictionalized accounts, to varying degrees, before being distributed for the public's consumption. Every story is a filtered account, whether or not it bears the "based on true events" sticker.

I read fiction because I like it, and I value it as much as non-fiction because they are basically the same thing: people telling stories that contain some truth.
posted by reegmo at 7:08 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, aren't there enough incredible real-world stories out there, so as to make fiction kind of pointless? People are talking about understanding human behavior and motivation, but can't you also do that by, say, reading a historical biography? Or getting to know a friend better?

A lot about how much I enjoy a piece of fiction is the style in which it is written and the attributes of main characters, if it is a series. That's the reason why I sometimes go and read every book an author has written after stumbling across one. And yes, invariably some stories are less good than others, but I get enough enjoyment from the style of the narrative or the character to make it worth my while.

Reading a historic biography won't do for that reason and getting to know a friend better requires you to interact and engage with them as opposed to absorbing a piece of writing, which you can do any time, any place and without having to consider the other person's needs or wants.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - question has problem to be solved even if you don't like it. MeTa is your option, please do not turn this into a debate, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2010

People do many, many things that may be considered by others to be a "waste of time". It really depends on what you consider "good use of time". Is "good use of time" defined as something that increases your production efficiency? I am not a robot on an automobile assembly line in Detroit, and as such, I do many things solely because doing so gives me pleasure. Reading and watching fictional creations gives me pleasure.

Why do some people cook fantastic meals, when the consumption of a prescribed food diet can easily provide the human body with all the nutrients it requires for proper operation?

Why do some people have sex without the intent to procreate?

Why do some people play sports, when a scientifically-crafted workout regimen would deliver better results in a more efficient manner?

Why do some people converse when there is no crucial information that requires transfer?

Because they like to.
posted by joelhunt at 7:22 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

It seems like a waste of time.

Have you tried it? Or are you just making an a priori judgment?
posted by adamrice at 7:26 AM on May 3, 2010

Travel broadens the mind. Fiction gives you a chance to see things from a different perspective. It also, both intentionally and inadvertently, reveals a lot about the person and the historical context in which it was created. You can learn quite a bit about a culture by the stories it tells itself, including many things that are harder to get at from any other direction. On top of that, there's the enjoyment of narrative itself (who doesn't like a good story?) and the enjoyment of seeing language itself used well and/or used in novel ways. This latter isn't limited to fiction, of course, but it's often more on display in fiction, especially since modernism. Fiction also gives us some common frames of reference for discussing real-world problems, especially ethical ones. Fictional characters and the situations in which they find themselves can (and often do) provide a springboard for discussion of real-world problems.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I would suspect that, behind anyone who thinks of fiction as a waste of time, you can find a really overly-simplistic division between fiction and non-fiction. They are different things, but not as different as you might think by the names. Autobiography, as a genre, is a good example of this.

To goateebird, I'd point out that biography, as a genre of writing, has many generic components which shape its meaning. There isn't a genre of writing allows you an unproblematic way of simply channeling truth into words. All genres, including non-fiction ones, involve selection, sequence, and emphasis. Hayden White has written of this extensively in the context of historical writing.
posted by wheat at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing escapism, learning about human nature, and so on. To add to those points: not all fiction and drama is the same. Authors take you places when you read that you may never explore in real life, and good writers make these places seem as immediate as the real world. When you read some of the lower-brow books and fiction, it's like you're going into a dive bar to meet people. You go there with the expectation of finding folks that maybe aren't too stylish but are probably kind of fun. When you read something a little more high brow, it's more like going to a museum. You go there expecting to be challenged and to learn something that you never knew before. A book that I know allows me to engage with these different places, and every setting in between, without leaving my apartment.

It's not like you can't explore themes developed in fiction in real life. What I really value about a good book is the change in perspective, though. When I'm reading, I see the world through the eyes of a character who may be very different from me. It's sort of refreshing, and I think, not something that you get through nonfiction.

On preview, also what wheat said.
posted by _cave at 7:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't read much fiction any more, but my favorite books are fiction. The genre attracts people who just love to write. Most of those people frankly suck, but occasionally you'll come across some piece of fiction that is just so beautiful and haunting that it rings truer than any non-fiction. I read this quotation from Virginia Woolf's Orlando all the time, just because I think it's gorgeous:

"Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds, of rainbow and granite, and stuffed them into a case, often of the most incongruous, for the poet has a butcher’s face and the butcher a poet’s; nature, who delights in muddle and mystery, so that even now (the first of November 1927) we know not why we go upstairs, or why we come down again, our most daily movements are like the passage of a ship on an unknown sea, and the sailors at the mast–head ask, pointing their glasses to the horizon; Is there land or is there none? to which, if we are prophets, we make answer ‘Yes’; if we are truthful we say ‘No’; nature, who has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence, has further complicated her task and added to our confusion by providing not only a perfect rag–bag of odds and ends within us—a piece of a policeman’s trousers lying cheek by jowl with Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil—but has contrived that the whole assortment shall be lightly stitched together by a single thread."

As a history lover, another thing that I really like about fiction (or, rather, literature, including poetry and drama) is that it lets you see inside the minds of people who are long dead. Take the Odyssey, for example: even though it was pieced together literally thousands of years ago and much of it is strange and alien to us now, you can get glimpses of easily-recognizable human emotion. When Argus recognizes the disguised, recently-returned Odysseus, wags his tail, and dies, and Odysseus can't go be with him because it would blow his cover, it's heartbreaking, because 2010 you and 800 BC Homer both understand that dogs are awesome friends and it's painful to watch them suffer. Pre-modern non-fiction writing doesn't give you anything to hold onto, from a human perspective, any more than modern legal writing or accounting ledgers are in any way emotional to read.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:33 AM on May 3, 2010

Exactly. I read Tolstoy's War and Peace and could have easily read the history of Russia's early 19th century wars but those would lack the human drama of the events that happened. Tolstoy's deft use of prose brought actual historical events to life and made it easier to imagine the spirit of the time. Was it 100% historically accurate? No, but Tolstoy had a deep understanding of Russian history - more so than most historians alive or dead.
posted by JJ86 at 7:42 AM on May 3, 2010

Read Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip and you'll find out. Also quoted in there is Emily Dickinson's line: "There is no frigate like a book." I've been to Samoa, Japan, Greece, Siberia, everywhere without leaving my bed.

You might try checking many past Mefi postings of the best books in the world. Set aside an hour a day, at nighttime, instead of TV, with about ten of the shortest books on those lists--or short stories by Alice Munro or William Trevor--and see what happens to your life in a month. Maybe nothing, maybe magic.
posted by Elsie at 7:46 AM on May 3, 2010

C. S. Lewis said "We read to know we are not alone."

That, and it's more fun to begin learning about the world Jane Austen lived in by reading Jane Austen. For instance.
posted by rtha at 7:53 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, and you might gain some insight into human behavior by reading fiction and poetry.
posted by rtha at 7:56 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't you agree that in all non-fiction storytelling (about someone doing/accomplishing) that there is a level of bias? What is that person lies about the story the tell?

But in fiction, you get someone who is writing a tale and in doing so is true to their story.

In other words, in non-fiction there could be lies; fiction is the only medium that could truly have 100% truth.
posted by filmgeek at 8:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

This I believe: Fiction can tell us the truth about humanity to degrees that non-fiction cannot.
posted by booth at 8:15 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

There is a great explanation in Walter Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy. (This is closely paraphrased.) If Napoleon could return from the dead and read any of his biographies his first response would be something like "my secret is safe". If Natasha Rostov could return from the undead and read War and Peace her first response would be something like "oh god they knew".

There is a psychic interior present in a well-written novel which is beyond the ken of a library full of psychological case studies.
posted by bukvich at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2010 [15 favorites]

Because we can never know enough people; not in one life, not in twenty. Because we can never experience all the places, events, hopes, fears, loves, hates, urges, dreads, longings, griefs that can be apart of a human life. Because even when we share the same experiences, are at the same events, it won't be the same for each of us. Because only by seeking more and more and more view of the world can we begin to grasp the multitude-ness, rareness, awfulness, greatness, smallness, wonderfulness, closeness, farness of the infinite variety of earth, relationships and life.
posted by Some1 at 8:21 AM on May 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

I will refer you to Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" (caution, PDF link). He does a pretty good job of answering people who had asked your question previously.
posted by andrewcilento at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2010

You could have put this question in the philosophy category because it is often addressed in aesthetics. Lots of people are saying that reading fiction gives them insight into human nature but is that really what is immediately motivating them to open up the book? That doesn't seem very likely to me- it's more of a benefit one realises after the fact, if at all.

Then there's the issue of why we get emotionally invested in fictions when the characters don't even exist, very strange right? This is known as the paradox of fiction. A lot of philosophers think that basically we have to forget at some level that the situation is fictional- although we don't forget so much that we try to prevent tragedies and so on.

In general, the majority response to this question seems to be that we just like it. But that's not really grasping the problem. WHY do we like it? What is so pleasurable about following someone's problems and suffering, especially when it isn't even true??

I think that, in the end, we have to appeal to something like a primitive motivation we have to get caught up in narratives (which makes evolutionary sense because of the use in learning from others and in general using narratives to make causal sense of life events). Then once involved in the narrative, we just want to know what happens next and are rewarded with a sense of satisfaction when we find out. Then there's additional rewards of vicariously experiencing what the characters experience, as well as the pleasures we get from the formal features of the work, such as the sense of structural coherence, linguistic rhythms, imagery and so on.
posted by leibniz at 8:27 AM on May 3, 2010

When I read imagined worlds, future past or present, I find ideas that can be put to use outside of fiction. I've often thought that people read fiction with the same passion they read religious literature (especially science fiction) because it offers a similar way of thinking about ideal worlds, ideal futures. And not only about possibilities for how to live and be and believe, but possibilities for technology and how we organize society.

For example, Arthur Clarke invented the communications satellite concept in late 1945 in and Robert Heinlein proposed the idea of the water bed in 1942; both in science fiction novels. Those are just some examples off the top of my head, there are of course so many more which influenced technology and culture, like William Gibson's discussion of cyberspace in Neuromancer (1984).

Fiction is the inventors literature. People read fiction to imagine possible selves, possible worlds and to find the inspiration to work toward ideals and to bring new realities into being.

John Dewey describes this process perfectly when he discusses imagination as a step in the process of knowledge. He summed up the practical impact by saying “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”
posted by jardinier at 8:54 AM on May 3, 2010

Why do people read and watch fiction books and dramas? It seems like a waste of time.

Is reading non-fiction really any less of a waste of time? Maybe it's not if you're reading the Chilton manual for your car, or a guide to first aid, but most non-fiction that people read is just as much (or as little) a waste of time, I would argue, as fiction.

And I say that as a person who reads a lot more non-fiction than fiction, these days. Partly for the exact reason goateebird, "playing Devil's Advocate" (hey!) notes: the real world is just so damn fascinating. But I can't say that non-fiction books I've loved such as The Orchid Thief or The Professor and the Madman or Salt: A World History have provided me with any more direct, practical benefit than fiction books would have. I read them for much the same reasons people have outlined above in defense of fiction.

I'd be curious to see a list of the last, say, ten non-fiction books you've read. Why did you read them? Did you derive practical, useful knowledge from all of them?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:00 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

People like stories.
posted by justcorbly at 9:39 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think your question really contains its own answer:

I don't understand human behavior. Why do people read and watch fiction books and dramas? It seems like a waste of time.

Deep down, the most fundamental reason people read fiction and watch (fictional) stories is TO understand human behavior. Fiction, when it's well done, offers you the change to imagine what it's like to be someone else. Novelist Ian McEwan put it well: "Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality."

And here's another piece that sums up pretty much exactly what I think about this subject. (It also discusses that McEwan quote.)
posted by Ms. Informed at 9:50 AM on May 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Escapism--fiction lets us see a life we don't lead, and imagine what that would be like.

Catharsis--fiction helps us work through painful solutions in our life by seeing what others do in similar circumstances.

Romance--fiction gives us the Cinderella, happily-ever-after fairytale ending, as well as reminding us what that heady, exhilarating feeling of falling in love is like if it has been a while.

Mystery--fiction gives us puzzles to solve and analyze to keep our minds working in different ways.

Psychology--fiction shows us how others' minds work, what motivates them or shapes their actions every day.

Humor--fiction makes us laugh at the absurdity of life.

Insight--fiction helps us to know ourselves better by giving us characters that we can either relate to, admire, learn to respect or hate outright, and then makes us think about how why we feel the way we do.

That's just off the top of my head.
posted by misha at 10:36 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the most basic reason I read (and listen to, and watch) fictional stories is for the same reason as I played at things as a child. I not only liked make-believe, i.e., projecting my self into imagined realities, I seemed to be hard-wired to do it.

As an adult, fiction remains the easiest if not the only way I get to still have make-believe experiences; it's pure play, with extra benefits as the quality and richness of the fiction increases.

As a young teenager, I began to think that the reason many fictional works were written, and were presented to us in school, was to take advantage of our instinctive pleasure in make-believe (the hook part of story-telling) to get us to have a lesson, usually about what kinds of behavior would lead to tragedy. I often promised myself to never do many things that fictional characters did to others in their power, like keep them from being with those they loved, doing what they loved, etc. I did not prefer this sort of teaching fiction, but I could still be swept away by it, which was the most fundamental measure of its quality.

The books I read on my own were mostly pure play, but the power I had to choose the type of play I wanted was the really good part. The BEST, however, was when an author would show me things I wanted to play at that I'd never before imagined.

So I used fiction both to map my own character and pleasures, and to explore the unknown. But I was always and increasingly conscious that it was the authors of my favorite books that I was really being drawn to, more so than their fictions, much as I might love one certain fiction of some author's better than their others. Good authors proved themselves to know me better than I did myself by their choices of what I would find delicious, so they became trusted friends and reliable advisors, and a good sort of guide to qualities I might seek in other people.

As a young adult, I read many fictional works that seemed to promise me knowledge of how people were supposed to be and to act, or how people in settings that I preferred to my own would act. Perhaps i thought that immersion in such fictions would help me change my own circumstances in some way; more make-believe, and not particularly successful, but certainly pleasurable and eventually quite illuminating. Escapism obviously, but with lots of potential for self-knowledge.

Still, the absolutely best experience that fictional reading provides for me, then and now, is the experience of eloquence. Fiction still seems to be the most likely reading experience in which I'll find my own experiences—particularly my most mysterious and elusive experiences—given clarity, form and voice in words, either in explication or poetry, or pure situational symbolism. This is the pure magic, beyond that of a good tale well told. It's the pleasure of verbal and emotional mastery perfectly fused. No matter how good or how enjoyable I've ever found non-fiction writing to be, it's never ascended to the heights of eloquence I've found in great fiction.

And after I experienced this eloquence for the first time, as a kid, it seemed obvious that THIS was the real reason why fiction was written and why it was studied and valued.

Discovering that there were people who had apparently never been moved or illuminated by such eloquence and thus couldn't value it was a bit of a shock. It's one of the main ways in which I often don't understand my fellow humans.
posted by dpcoffin at 10:43 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I like junkfood media because my brain is on, full-speed, for 16 hours a day, digesting facts and problem-solving. I need an hour or two of brainless entertainment so my brain won't overheat.
posted by lekvar at 11:06 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

On some level, nearly every activity outside of eating and sex is a waste of time. Wasting time is important -- what else is there to do?
posted by coolguymichael at 11:50 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Humans are profoundly social. Reading, watching movies, & Tv, listening to radio, we hear about the way other people live, think, act., etc. It gives us some sense of what normal may be, and helps us assess our own thoughts and behaviors. Some books are funny, sad, or stir other emotions. I read because I like to enter a new place, and I'm always happiest if there are new ideas, or if I'm in any way able to learn while I enjoy the world the author has created. For instance, my knowledge of WWII is quite influenced by Herman Wouk.

I listen to music for pleasure and/or to dance, or to get moving.

There was a period when ask.me had a lot of poop questions and answers. It was absurdly comforting to know I'm not the only one w/ certain questions.
posted by theora55 at 2:26 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have always looked at it like this: What are the odds of making friends with people as smart/wise/insightful as Shakespeare, Feynman, or Gabriel García Márquez. I can go to the library and without a doubt read the thoughts of the greatest minds in the history of the world. There is a greater likelihood of finding wisdom in books than to be found in conversations with the general public. The chances of me making the acquaintance of Sun Tzu while drinking a latte at Starbucks are pretty slim.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I need to escape myself - my ego, my life, my reality - I can do so through books. Nonfiction doesn't provide the same experience. A documentary can be dramatic, but it's not the same.

People in jail can be princes and vampires and fall in love over and over again. Children without friends or who have trouble socializing can ride dragons and have magical powers.

Without fiction, the fantastical nature of life would go unexplored. Your unconscious brain experiences several dream cycles per night; you may not remember it, but it's biologically necessary, apparently.

If your unconscious mind requires regular dream states, why wouldn't your conscious mind benefit from a similar experience?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:48 PM on May 3, 2010

It seems like a waste of time

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." --Bertrand Russell
posted by sambosambo at 5:35 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ursula LeGuin's Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness:
The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like. I don't recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information. It's none of their business. All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, and what you are like -- what's going on -- what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don't tell you what what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent telling lies.
We read to understand ourselves and the world around us.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:48 AM on May 4, 2010

My mother thinks that reading fiction is a waste of time, as well. She tells me that I should be studying, or cleaning my room, or doing something useful instead. I should study, her thinking goes, so that I can get good grades, get into a good college, and graduate and get a good job and earn lots of money and be happy. But the thing is, I am not compromising my happiness by reading - I'm actually experiencing it far ahead of schedule, as there's not much I'd rather be doing than reading. [Everything in moderation, of course. I know you still have to earn money to eat.]

Another thing: Why did you come to Ask Metafilter with this question? You didn't understand something and you wanted other people's opinions. Books give you that! And it's perfectly okay for me - and other fiction lovers, I suspect- that those people are completely made up. They're still capable of enthralling me and making me think about my own life different.
posted by estlin at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sometimes time needs wastin'.
posted by klangklangston at 6:49 PM on May 5, 2010

Art is mankind's half of a conversation with the universe. Through science we listen, and seek to understand what the universe is. Through art we explain, and seek to demonstrate what human consciousness is.

So far we're merely talking to ourselves, but that's allright; there's a joy of accomplishment in that, too, in knowing that someone somewhere has nailed it, what it was like to see what we see, to hear what we hear, to feel as we feel. That last one may be all: What art does seek to communicate an experience of consciousness so that it is replicated within another consciousness. When it works it is arresting and sublime, as much as nature can be.

We're all a patchwork of mirror neurons, after all.
posted by Diablevert at 7:46 PM on May 8, 2010

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