*Note: For all of you non-readers, please bear with me on this one. And, believe me, I feel your pain!*
Fiction. The word describes something unreal – a wish, a fantasy, a lie. And for probably 15 years, I didn’t want much to do with that particular literary genre. I didn’t see the point. If I’m going to read, why would I want to read something that is not true?
If I’m honest, I wasn’t much for reading in general. I found it boring and reading always made me sleepy. I knew, though, that if I was going to read then the book should help shape and mold me into a better disciple. I read my Bible, books on prayer, evangelism, living for Christ, God’s character, etc. I must admit, many of those books I never finished. I would just peruse the pages or read the first few chapters. Beyond that (albeit broad) category, the only books I ever picked up were those I was required to read for my classes and the occasional children’s book to read to my niece and nephew.
Then I moved to my new home. My closest friends here are avid readers. They even read novels in English and other foreign (to them) languages. They could probably read an American novel in less time than it would take me to read it.
My tutor during my formal language training became a very dear friend to me and one day she walked in absolutely beaming saying she had a “surprise” for me after our lessons. During the lesson she asked if I like to read. My response: “Not really.” She looked completely dejected and I had no idea why. She proceeded to tell me that she wanted to do something special for me and had planned to take me to get my own library card to our local library. I had in 5 seconds totally crushed her excitement and plans. I felt like a jerk.
That encounter broke my heart. Thankfully she was very gracious about everything, but I knew the situation was discouraging for her. When our other friends learned that I didn’t particularly care for reading, the three of them joined forces and began encouraging me to give it a try. I was still very hesitant, but they were slowly beginning to get through to me. Then I was conversing with another friend of mine (who did not know these three girls or anything about the situation) and he also encouraged me to pick up a book.
But I just couldn’t justify it in my mind. If I’m going to “waste” time reading, shouldn’t I at least read something beneficial? How would reading fiction be any better than watching a movie? In my mind, it was actually much worse because a movie is finished in about 2 hours. I am a slow reader so a book would take me weeks. I voiced these thoughts to my friend during our conversation and he basically told me that my reasoning was flawed. He explained that a great deal could be learned through fiction novels. I was still extremely skeptical, but I figured it would probably strengthen my friendships with the girls – even if it did absolutely nothing else – so I decided to give it a whirl.
I wasn’t about to pay money for this little experiment, but I remembered seeing some John Grisham novels at our club and I had heard he was really good. I grabbed one of his works (“A Painted House”) and started reading it that evening. I realized pretty quickly that reading fiction is much easier and more entertaining than non-fiction. And, though I didn’t feel I had learned a ton at the end of it, I did enjoy the read. I also loved that it took place on a farm. It made me homesick in a good way and led to me making fried chicken and biscuits from scratch, both for the first time (I should also mention that I failed miserably at an attempt at gravy, haha). I guess something good came out of it after all, huh?
Still not fully convinced, I decided to give this whole “reading fiction” thing one more shot. As I was returning the Grisham novel back to the club, I looked through the other books sitting on that little shelf. One book caught my eye. It was by Francine Rivers. I had heard of her book “Redeeming Love” and everyone who talked about it only had excellent things to say. But the title of this one was just plain weird – “And the Shofar Blew.” What in the world does that even mean??? I debated a bit, but went ahead and took it home. After the first chapter I was starting to regret that decision. It seemed like just another corny Christian novel. No thanks. Fortunately, I decided to keep reading to make sure I really didn’t like it. After chapter three I caved in and looked up the word “shofar.” For those of you like me, it’s basically the old ram’s horn that was used to sound warnings and what-nots back in the days of the Israelites. Also by the end of chapter three I was hooked. I saw entirely too much of myself in one of the main characters.
By the time I finished that last page I had come face to face with one of my greatest fears. I had wept. I had lost sleep. My faith had been challenged and strengthened. My reliance on the Lord and on His word had grown. My prayer life had improved. I had learned valuable lessons in discerning truth, accountability, marriage, family, confronting sin, people-pleasing, and countless other things. How was all of this possible??? It was just a piece of fiction. Then I realized how true my friend’s admonition had been. There really is a great deal to be learned.
Since that first Grisham novel (which I think I read in February or March), my Kindle has become my best friend. This year I have read ten novels including great works such as “Wuthering Heights” and “Crime & Punishment”. Some of these have been classic children’s novels such as “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Secret Garden.” I have read lesser known novels by people I’d never heard of in my life. And I finally got to read “Redeeming Love.”
I also value non-fiction more now and have read works like “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan – a book I started long ago, but never finished. I have read through the Bible and have started back through it again, and I recently started a book by a local author.
With each book I have learned something. I have grown as a human and as follower of Christ. I have had to grapple with the various topics, themes, and ideas presented in each work. My reading and reasoning skills have improved. I’ve learned more about how the world views life and circumstances. I am thinking more deeply and have greater discernment.
I realize that not every book out there is edifying. There are some that make me sick just to think about them. There are some that leave people depressed or lead them into sinful thoughts and/or behaviors. There are some that leave us open to spiritual attack. And there are some that are just bad – they are boring or poorly written. We must be wise and discerning when selecting which books to read and when we need to just put a book down and never pick it back up. But that does not mean we cast every book aside as worthless. That does not mean that we disregard an opportunity for learning and growth simply because it carries the label of “fiction.” If you are like I was, I do hope that you will try this little experiment for yourself. I promise I won’t be offended if you still don’t like reading. If you want book suggestions, let me know! And reading does not have to consume your life. I generally only read at night when I’m going to bed… and that doesn’t even happen every night.
I am so grateful that my pride did not win out that first day. I’m grateful that my friends have challenged and encouraged me throughout this journey. I am grateful for good recommendations and that all of the old classics are free on Kindle. I’m grateful that, given the option, I would now rather read than watch TV 95% of the time. I am grateful that God has gifted so many individuals to be able to put into words the heartbeat of humanity in a way that is real, tangible, relatable, and understandable. I’m grateful I have the ability to read when so many people in this world have never been given that opportunity, and I pray I would no longer take it for granted. I am grateful you actually read this entire post; you are a trooper!