Reading Fiction: An Endangered Pastime in a highly efficient world

Varad Patankar
3 min readMar 31, 2021

These are times of efficiency and productivity. All activities should have a tangible & an observable outcome. Books should help me in my career, make me sound smarter or improve my finances or health etc. I have no qualms against such reading and I myself indulge in it often. But all is not well with such lop-sided reading of non-fiction.

I myself had fallen prey to this outcome-driven reading. But I started missing the feeling that fiction evoked in me. As I contemplated this, I realised that fiction has intangible yet mesmerizing effects on your mind & life.

Fiction helps you understand the world & other people better

Wait, isn’t that what physics, psychology etc. teach us? They certainly do, in a very cerebral kind of a way. They provide a zoomed-out perspective where you are directly transmitted information which you then further think upon. But fiction enables the reader to get immersed in a new world and witness it unfolding from a character’s point of view.

We start rooting for characters and ill-fortune befalling a favorite character triggers melancholy and rage. Such outbursts of emotion reveal a lot about how you think about life! Of course, like non-fiction, there is a gamut of senseless fiction out there. Ernest Hemingway says this about good fiction,

“All good books have one thing in common — they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you’ve read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people, and the weather.” Ernest Hemingway

Fiction is a Great Stressbuster

Reading non-fiction after a tiring day of work will re-engage your cognitive Prefrontal Cortex. Fiction on the other hand allows you to disengage and enter a trance-like state where you become a part of a new world. Reading fiction at night is an excellent segue into a blissful sleep (and vivid dreams!).

Fiction improves creativity

Our brain works 24/7. It processes incoming information, uses its past learnings and memory to finally predict what will happen in the future. Without this, we wouldn’t survive in this dynamic world.

Two researchers from Washington University in St. Louis scanned the brains of fiction readers and discovered that their test subjects created intense, graphic mental simulations of the sights, sounds, movements, and tastes they encountered in the narrative. In essence, their brains reacted as if they were actually living the events they were reading about.”

No wonder we unconsciously predict endings and feel heartbroken when our expectations are unmet. Repeatedly processing a storyline and predicting the future story arc makes you more creative as you can process situations in multiple ways.

Fiction improves your Vocabulary much faster than Non-Fiction

Non-fiction usually explains something to you. Using novel words here fails the objective of succinctness and clarity. However, in fiction, to effectively broadcast appropriate emotions, the author has to resort to a spectrum of emotive words.

This increases the exposure to new words. Besides sounding smart, having a broad vocabulary allows you to label your own emotions better which in turn allows you to better understand yourself.

Elon Musk recovered from his existential crisis after reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Einstein’s favorite book was Don Quixote (the story of a chivalrous knight). He was known to be an ardent reader of classics.

“Einstein lay in bed without shirt or pyjamas, with Don Quixote on his night table. It is the book which he enjoys most and likes to read for relaxation.” Leopold Infeld ( a physicist colleague of Einstein )

Some of you might be thinking that I can do most of the above by watching something on Netflix. However, watching a story and reading are different. When you read, you have to mentally simulate the world, an activity that is redundant while watching a TV series. So tonight, before you sleep, switch off your mobile phone and teleport yourself to a new world!

Originally published at http://meditationsofavoyager.wordpress.com on March 31, 2021.

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Varad Patankar

Chemical Engineer from UDCT Mumbai, presently pursuing an MBA from the Indian School of Business.